PULLMAN, Wash. — The first scientist to occupy the Orville A. Vogel Endowed Chair in Wheat Breeding and Genetics is a geneticist who will support Washington State University’s wheat breeders.
Molecular geneticist Kulvinder S. Gill has been appointed to fill the Vogel Chair. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln scientist will begin his new duties by Aug. 15.
Gill’s acceptance of the position ends several years of searching and negotiations with the wheat industry.
James Zuiches, dean of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics, said the position originally was conceived as a wheat-breeding position.
But, Zuiches said, “We have a strong team of wheat breeders, both in the university and ARS (Agricultural Research Service) and we didn’t need to add another breeder. What we needed was expertise at the level of plant molecular genetics.”
Gill will establish a research program in molecular and genetic analyses of traits that affect wheat development, productivity and quality.
Gill is credited with developing a new technique for faster sorting of wheat chromosomes while at the University of Nebraska. It will speed the process of locating all the important genes in those chromosomes.
Less than 1 percent of chromosome material contains genes — 70,000 to 80,000 wheat genes in all. But only about 1,000 of the genes — are of interest to crop scientists.
Gill’s contribution to the new sorting procedures wasn’t the development of new technology. Rather it was the application of relatively old technology in a new way, which allows scientists to sort batches of chromosomes to 95 percent purity. This results in a 60-fold reduction in lab work.
Scientists throughout the world consider the new technique a highly significant contribution to molecular genetics.
In effect, Gill shortened the highway that scientists have to travel to create higher-yielding, more nutritious wheat with qualities demanded by food processors and consumers.
Gill is a native of Punjab, the bread basket of India. He holds a bachelor’s in agronomy and a master’s in plant breeding from Punjab Agricultural University and a doctorate in genetics from Kansas State University.
The late Orville Vogel led the effort to introduce short-strawed wheats, which have 25 percent higher yields than the wheats they replaced. His research helped provide the foundation on which the Green Revolution was based.
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