From the DNA to the Field

What if there was a Netflix for wheat breeders? But, instead of suggesting movies, the algorithm “suggested” the best potential wheat varieties – generations before being planted in a test plot?

With Kansas Wheat Alliance funding, Dr. Jesse Poland and his team have created just that – a continuously evolving model built from current and historical wheat testing data. Armed with this knowledge, Kansas State University wheat breeders Allan Fritz in Manhattan and Guorong Zhang in Hays have a new tool to help them identify the lines with the best genetic potential to be the newest K-State wheat variety release. Read more

From Better Seeds to Beneficial Insects

Can a wasp feed the world? It can help. If its larvae are nurtured near millet fields where a devastating moth steals harvests from the field, they can grow to become predators that destroy the pests and save a crop. And that just might put more food in more mouths and earn money for struggling farmers in the world’s poorest countries.

“In some sense, the science, how to increase crop productivity, is the easier part,” said Gary Pierzynski, a Kansas State University researcher. “The challenge is how to get the people from these developing countries to do it.”

His work to that end, and that of others on the K-State campus, has brought $100 million in federal grants to the university to explore the varied and complicated questions of how to feed the world’s fast-growing population amid quickening climate change. Read more here in the Kansas City Star.

Wild Relatives

Plants closely related to crop species, such as wild maize in Mexico and wild rice in West Africa, often happily grow in and around the disturbed soils of agricultural fields, passing their genes along to these crops with the help of wind and insects. Some traditional farmers even encourage such “weeds” because they recognize that their presence has a positive effect on their crops. Read more at TheScientist.

A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself

The dun wheat field spreading out at Ravi P. Singh’s feet offered a possible clue to human destiny. Baked by a desert sun and deliberately starved of water, the plants were parched and nearly dead. Dr. Singh, a wheat breeder, grabbed seed heads that should have been plump with the staff of life. His practiced fingers found empty husks. “You’re not going to feed the people with that,” he said. Read more in The New York Times.

Putting Up Resistance

Beneath a steely and frigid Minnesota sky, the warm orange glow of a greenhouse beckons me to enter. But getting inside requires special security clearance and the donning of a white Tyvek gown, and visitors must shower upon leaving. Scrambling up a snowdrift outside the glass building affords me a less encumbered peek at what’s inside: row upon row of wheat plants, riddled with a fungal pathogen that has destroyed countless hectares of the crop in Africa and, more recently, the Middle East. Read more at TheScientist.