February 16, 2006
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
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
"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,"
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
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.