Colorado State University Researchers to Collaborate on $25 Million USDA Project to Develop Climate Change-Resistant Strains of Wheat

Researchers at Colorado State University will participate in a five-year, $25 million U.S. Department of Agriculture project addressing the impact of climate change on wheat and barley.

Over the five year period, CSU researchers in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences will receive $608,000 for the Triticeae Coordinated Agriculture Project, or T-CAP. The project will be coordinated by the University of California-Davis and involves 28 institutions in 21 states.

“This project is significant for Colorado because it will help locate the genes for two traits – drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency – that are critically important to the state’s wheat growers,” said Patrick Byrne, professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, who is a primary CSU researcher on the project. “Equally notable is participating in a coordinated network of 28 institutions that will keep CSU’s wheat breeding efforts at the forefront of new technology developments.”

USDA has established the long-term objective of increasing water and nitrogen use efficiency in wheat and barley through the development of varieties that can better adapt to the changing environments expected with continued climate change.

Byrne, who specializes in plant breeding and genetics, will be joined on the project by Soil and Crop Sciences professor and wheat breeder Scott Haley.

"I am really excited about our involvement in the new T-CAP project,” Haley said. “This project builds on what we’ve already done over the last several years and then takes us to the next level to break new ground at the interface of genomics and breeding.”

One of their major tasks is the evaluation of 300 lines of winter wheat for yield, drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency in four different environments. These efforts will be coordinated with similar trials in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

After evaluating the DNA markers identified through the trials, the team will develop breeding strategies based on natural genetic variation for varieties of wheat that display desired traits.

The USDA also hopes to develop a Plant Breeding Education Network with this award. As part of this educational aspect, CSU will train a doctoral student in wheat breeding and genetics as well as offer a two-week field course in 2012 and 2014 in selecting wheat varieties for drought tolerance.

In the United States, public sector researchers are the main source of new varieties of wheat for producers. Varieties developed publicly account for a substantial portion of the wheat grown each year in the U.S., nearly 70 percent nationally according to a recent estimate. The U.S. must compete for market shares by quickly and efficiently implementing the development and adoption of new wheat varieties.

“To me, the most exciting parts of the project are the goals for translation of basic findings in genomics to our wheat breeding program,” Haley said. “The project has brought together the best minds and ideas available, whether in the public or private sector, all oriented toward application of the project’s findings toward applied wheat breeding."

This award was made through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The 2008 Farm Bill established an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the Institute’s flagship competitive grant program. Awards distributed through this program support research in plant and animal health and production; food safety, nutrition, and health; renewable energy and environment; agriculture systems; and agricultural economics and rural communities.