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WSU’s On Solid Ground – Desert Wheat, Quinoa, Student Researcher, Bud Grafting – April 24, 2013

Posted by struscott | April 25, 2013

WSU to Lead Development of Heat-Tolerant Grain

Kulvinder Gill is the Vogel Endowed Chair for Wheat Breeding and Genetics at WSU.
Kulvinder Gill is the Vogel Endowed Chair for Wheat Breeding and Genetics at WSU.

WSU will lead a $16.2 million international effort to develop wheat varieties that can tolerate the high temperatures found in most of the world’s growing regions—temperatures that are likely to increase with global warming. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is partnering with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR) to support the research, which is part of the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future.

Researchers aim to have their first set of “climate-resilient” wheat varieties in five years. The research will focus on the North Indian River Plain, which is home to nearly one billion people that must deal with limited water and rising temperatures, said Kulvinder Gill, project director and the Vogel Endowed Chair for Wheat Breeding and Genetics. “The Climate Resilient Wheat project will benefit all wheat-growing regions of the world,” he said, “as heat during certain stages of the plant’s development has been a pervasive issue.”

The researchers will combine conventional and newly developed breeding tools to identify genes or sets of genes associated with heat tolerance, a rarely studied trait that significantly impacts yields. A wheat plant’s productivity falls off dramatically when temperatures rise above 82 degrees Fahrenheit and the effects are particularly dramatic in the flowering stage when the plant sets the seed that is ultimately harvested and milled for food.

Every rise of just a couple of degrees above 82 in the flowering stage cuts yields by 3 to 4 percent. Some parts of the North Indian River Plain can reach 95 degrees during flowering, said Gill, who worked in the withering heat of his family’s area farm as a child.

The project will continue efforts by Gill and colleagues to help wheat plants deal with environmental stresses. He is currently in the latter stages of a three-year $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the Gates Foundation to develop drought-tolerant “desert wheat.”

Support from USAID will leverage more than $11 million from other partners for research at WSU and project-related activities in India by researchers from both public and private institutions in the United States and India. As many as 35 Ph.D. students and 30 post-doctoral or research fellows will also be involved.

-Eric Sorensen

For more information about the research goals of Gilll and his collaborators, including their quest to understand the wheat genome and how to manipulate it for crop improvement, please visit http://vogelchair.wsu.edu/.

WSU Research Cultivates Seeds of Opportunity for PNW Farmers

Kevin Murphy is leading an effort to develop new varieties of quinoa to meet a growing domestic deman. Photo by Brian Clark, WSU.
Kevin Murphy is leading an effort to develop new varieties of quinoa to meet a growing domestic deman. Photo by Brian Clark, WSU.

The grain-like seed crop quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is expanding in popularity and very likely will soon be grown more widely in the Pacific Northwest thanks to a $1.6 million USDA grant recently awarded to a team of WSU researchers.

The tiny seeds of Chenopodium quinoa (a relative to beets and Swiss chard) are in high demand as a nutritious, protein-rich, gluten-free alternative to rice and other grains. Dr. Kevin Murphy, lead scientist and plant breeder for the WSU research project, said that current and growing demand in the United States outweighs production from traditional quinoa-producing countries like Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. “Demand is driving distributors, wholesalers, and retailers to seek out domestic, reliable sources of quinoa, and this spells opportunity for Pacific Northwest farmers,” Murphy said.

Organic farmers and quinoa distributors and retailers alike are expected to benefit from the research. “Consumers want organic and local sources of quinoa,” Murphy said. The project aims to identify the best varieties suited for organic production in the region, develop best management practices for production, and assess market demand and future marketing options for quinoa growers and sellers.

Varieties of quinoa grow in plots at WSU's organic farm in Pullman. Photo by Brian Clark, WSU.
Varieties of quinoa grow in plots at WSU’s organic farm in Pullman. Photo by Brian Clark, WSU.

The research project ties into a larger global focus on the potential of this nutritious crop. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. According to International Year of Quinoa website, the goal of the campaign is to “focus world attention on the role that quinoa´s biodiversity and nutritional value plays in providing food security and nutrition and the eradication of poverty.”

Expanding Quinoa’s Rewards

The research project ties into a larger global focus on the potential of this nutritious crop. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. According to the website dedicated to spreading the word about quinoa, the goal is to “focus world attention on the role that quinoa´s biodiversity and nutritional value plays in providing food security, nutrition, and the eradication of poverty.”

Quinoa’s potential both to increase options for regional farmers and locavores as well as address global food security lies in its adaptability to marginal growing conditions. “Compared to other crops, quinoa has excellent drought and salinity tolerance,” explained Murphy. “Quinoa can adapt to many environmental and climatic conditions. It thrives in a wide range of soil pH, and tolerates light frost and late rains.” One area that needs improvement is developing varieties with greater heat tolerance. So far, Murphy’s variety trials indicate that varieties bred from Chilean germplasm are best adapted to high maximum temperatures of the region.

WSU will host an International Quinoa Research Symposium August 12-14 as part of the International Year of Quinoa marketing effort. Researchers from around the world will gather in Pullman to learn about current research, including from demonstrations of variety and breeding field trials.

-Sylvia Kantor

For more information about the upcoming International Quinoa Research Symposium hosted by WSU, please visithttp://bit.ly/XRsMCM.

Undergrad Researcher Earns Trip to National Conference

Pablo Corredor taking in the tourist sites in D.C. while attending the ERN Conference.
Pablo Corredor taking in the tourist sites in D.C. while attending the ERN Conference.

When he found out his undergraduate research qualified him for the Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), WSU food science undergraduate Pablo Corredor submitted a poster in hopes of sharing his research on the Bartlett pear. His hopes were exceeded when the poster was not only chosen to compete at the national conference, but he also earned a travel award to attend the conference from February 29 to March 3 in Washington, DC. Corredor’s poster was chosen to compete at the national conference and he earned a travel award to attend the conference in Washington, D.C.

An unexpected element of the experience was the personal growth and inspiration that came with the trip. “Thanks to this conference, I was able to make national and international connections with other students and professors,” Corredor said. “Personally, the most important part of this conference was the inspiration and motivation I gained to continue working on doing research in STEM.”

Corredor’s research project focused on establishing biotechnological tools and strategies for the long-term improvement of the European (Bartlett) pear. The pear market in the United States is economically stagnant and faces challenges to its long-term growth and stability. Corredor’s work on deployment of micropropagation aims to confront those challenges. Micropropagation involves growing plant cells in a tissue culturing medium to produce large numbers of disease-free plants. He is using this process to develop tools to improve biotechnological techniques.

Corredor’s research was done through WSU’s Department of Horticulture under the direction of Associate Professor and horticulture scientist Amit Dhingra. Dhingra is a genomicist who works to improve Washington fruit crops. Corredor also worked closely with Christopher Handrickson, who is a graduate research assistant in Dhingra’s lab, as well as Nathan Tarlyn, horticultural biotechnology manager. Because he was the only WSU student in attendance at the 2013 ERN conference, Corredor set a goal to bring as many students as possible from WSU to next year’s meeting in Chicago. “I would like to encourage anyone who is doing undergraduate or graduate research to apply to the annual ERN conference. This experience inspired me to continue working hard on my undergraduate research project and bring more people to participate in events like this.”

-Angela Lenssen

Online Training Shows Orchardists How to Propagate Dessert and Cider Apples with Chip Bud Grafting

Learn apple chip bud grafting with WSU online training.
Learn apple chip bud grafting with WSU online training.

Many orchardists use grafting to optimize their apple quantities and varieties. To help growers of dessert and cider apples successfully propagate trees, WSU has produced an online training that demonstrates the process of chip bud grafting. This propagation method is relatively fast and mechanically easy, but does require proper materials and techniques. Tom Thornton, an orchardist with more than 30 years of experience, helped craft the comprehensive training.

A small segment of the training can be viewed on YouTube at http://bit.ly/12cW92r. The full 20-minute training is available for $35 athttp://bit.ly/16u321V.

carrotTop 5 Reasons to Check Out Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington

  1. It was A) written by a vegetable production scientist who trains Master Gardeners and has 20 years of experience growing vegetables in Washington, B) peer reviewed, and C) professionally edited and designed.
  2. It provides growing instructions for more than 70 vegetables.
  3. It clarifies which vegetables you should prioritize growing if you want to experience significantly superior quality and value compared to the typical grocery store fare.
  4. It includes color maps that distinguish Washington growing zones by temperature and date.
  5. It’s free!

Grab your copy from the WSU Extension Online Bookstore: http://bit.ly/10kQ0oE.