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By Emily ThompsonU of A System Division of AgricultureJan. 27, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Producing enough wheat to keep up with a growing global population
has been a constant struggle for farmers and a challenge to wheat breeders. A University
of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture professor has joined the International
Wheat Yield Partnership, a global program zeroing in on the genes that regulate wheat
Esten Mason, Division of Agriculture wheat breeder, is one of 15 breeders collaborating
with the University of California, Davis, to identify the genes that impact wheat
yield. The partnership was made possible through a $9.7 million grant funded through
the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Mason said that breeders have known for a long time where these genes are located,
but they were never able to identify them.
“The technology has never been there to easily identify and utilize them, which has
been a hindrance to genetic improvement of wheat yield,” said Mason.
However, that’s changed.
Using knock-out mutants of wheat developed at the University of California, Davis,
advances in genome editing and a nearly completed wheat genome sequence, Mason will
be able to study the functions of different genes and identify those that most affect
Sixty-five percent of wheat varieties are still produced in the public sector at university
breeding programs. Mason said joint projects like this one enable breeders to come
together and share research.
“These collaborative projects have a huge impact on the success of public breeding
programs which impact the success of wheat growers,” said Mason.
Mason’s research will be based on previous studies conducted in his lab and will focus
on a gene they have identified to have an effect on the number of kernels produced
on a wheat spike.
Along with the need for increased wheat production, comes the need for new plant breeders.
“One of the major goals in the project is to train 15 Ph.D. students in next generation
plant breeding,” said Mason.
The students will be cloning the genes, studying their functions, and putting them
into new wheat varieties.
Impact on farmers
For a farmer to break even in Arkansas, an average of 60 bushels of wheat an acre
must be produced. The statewide average is 55 bushels an acre, said Mason.
After the yield genes have been identified, breeders hope to deploy them to increase
wheat yield. Targeted gene deployment like this has been used for years in disease
resistance breeding and for other inherited traits. Wheat grain yield is a complex
trait, which makes it more difficult to improve.
“It is an ambitious project, but the ultimate goal is to increase yield and make wheat
more productive and profitable,” said Mason.
For more information previous work done by Mason, see: http://bit.ly/2jv8bWc .
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital
or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
Media Contact: Mary HightowerDir. of Communication ServicesU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) firstname.lastname@example.org