PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers working on developing wheat varieties that grow under severe drought conditions — “desert wheat” — have earned a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.Part of the two foundations’ BREAD program, the grant will help fund WSU scientist Kulvinder Gill’s research on identifying genes that will increase wheat yields under drought stress. BREAD stands for Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development; it is a five-year program aimed at generating sustainable, science-based solutions to agricultural problems in developing countries. More than 130 U.S. institutions in 45 states, partnering with counterparts in 68 countries, submitted proposals for the inaugural BREAD competition.
“It is an honor for WSU to be a part of this prestigious, international effort to help feed the world,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “The potential for truly changing the circumstances of people around the globe is real and powerful.”
Ralph Cavalieri, director of WSU’s Agricultural Research Center, said the award speaks to the quality of the university’s plant sciences research.
“This award is national recognition of WSU’s strength in wheat genetics and breeding,” he said. “It will have positive impacts globally and for U.S. wheat producers.”
Gill, who holds the Vogel Chair for Wheat Breeding and Genetics at WSU, will lead a team of researchers at WSU, Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the Punjab Agricultural University in India, COMSATS University in Pakistan, and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. The team will focus on developing alternate gene systems to reduce plant height in wheat and other cereals. Currently used dwarfing genes that helped double wheat and rice production during the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s limit yields under drought and other environmental stress conditions, especially in wheat. Approximately 50 percent of the world’s wheat is grown in arid climates.
“Successful completion of our project will help maximize the benefits of the dwarfing trait without the adverse effects under drought conditions that are usually associated with the currently used mutants. The project is particularly important for the U.S. where 85 percent of the wheat is grown under limited water conditions,” said Gill.
A complete list of 2010 BREAD awards is available at http://www.nsf.gov/bio/pubs/awards/bread10.htm.
A video version of this story is available at www.wsunews.wsu.edu.