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2-Plants: 5 million grant awarded for wheat genome research and marker assisted breeding in the USA

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TITLE:  $5 Million USDA Grant Awarded for Wheat Genome Research
SOURCE: University of California/Davis, USA
DATE:   16 Feb 2006

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$5 Million USDA Grant Awarded for Wheat Genome Research

A national consortium of wheat breeders and scientists, led by Jorge
Dubcovsky at the University of California, Davis, today was awarded a $5
million grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement modern
technologies that will equip breeders to produce higher quality, disease-
resistant wheat, one of the world's oldest and most widely used food crops.

The technology, known as marker-assisted selection, allows the
researchers to use the genetic information found in the plant's DNA to
select those plants that carry desirable traits, such as disease
resistance and improved quality.

"This grant will enable us to expand our research effort, provide
training for graduate and undergraduate students, and share practical
information about the technology with growers across the country," said
Dubcovsky, project leader for the Marker Assisted Selection program for
wheat. The program includes breeders and researchers at universities in
17 states and at four U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratories.

Developing new varieties

Wheat is unique among the major crop plants, Dubcovsky noted, in that
researchers from public universities and government laboratories, rather
than private companies, are largely responsible for providing new
varieties to U.S. wheat farmers. For example, from 2001 to 2003, public
wheat varieties accounted for 78 percent of U.S. wheat production, which
amounted to an annual average of 38 million metric tons valued at more
than $5 billion.

"The main objective of the Marker Assisted Selection project is to
incorporate modern selection technologies to increase the competitiveness
of these public wheat breeding programs," Dubcovsky said.

The technology

Molecular markers are landmarks in the chromosome maps of plants or
animals, which can be used to monitor the transfer of specific chromosome
segments known to carry useful traits. Breeders use these markers to more
precisely select for the best combinations of traits.

In addition to using existing markers, the project also will "map" new
markers associated with important agronomic traits. This is done by
identifying the relative positions of marker genes on a chromosome and
then measuring the association between the markers and the targeted
traits. Researchers involved with the project will map, validate and
implement these molecular markers for quantitative traits prioritized by
the wheat industry.

U.S. wheat researchers already have developed protocols for more than 50
molecular markers for genes that confer disease resistance and certain
quality traits. They have used these markers in a previous project, also
led by UC Davis, to incorporate valuable genes into the best breeding
lines for 10 different market classes of wheat.

"These wheat lines will be used in the new project to deploy the targeted
genes into thousands of lines across the breeding programs, with the help
of high-throughput genotyping laboratories established by the USDA,"
Dubcovsky said. "Those laboratories will use modern equipment to provide
breeders with the thousands of molecular markers required for this approach."

More information about the Marker Assisted Selection program is available
online at

The project is funded through USDA's Cooperative State Research,
Education and Extension Service and administered through its National
Research Initiative. The initiative supports research, education and
extension grants that address key problems of national, regional and
multistate importance in sustaining all components of agriculture.

Media contact(s):
- Jorge Dubcovsky, Plant Sciences, (530) 752-5159,
- Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843,


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