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Wheat research aims to increase yields, virus resistance

Wheat Researcher

Larger, heavier wheat kernels—that’s how associate professor Wanlong Li of the South Dakota State University Department of Biology and Microbiology seeks to increase wheat production.

SDSU is one of seven universities nationwide to receive funding to develop new wheat varieties as part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s International Wheat Yield Partnership Program. The program supports the G20’s Wheat Initiative, which seeks to enhance the genetics related to yield and develop varieties adapted to different regions and environmental conditions.

This and other research focused on feeding the world’s increasing population takes place in the new greenhouse, built last year north of the Animal Science Complex. Funding came from the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, South Dakota Wheat Commission, South Dakota Crop Improvement Association, Foundation Seed Stock Division and private donors.

The goal of IWYP, which was formed in 2014, is to increase wheat yields by 50 percent in 20 years. That means that the yearly yield gain, which is now less than 1 percent, must increase 1.7 percent per year.

Through a three-year, $930,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Li is collaborating with Bing Yang, an associate professor in genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State, to increase wheat grain size and weight using a precise gene-editing tool known as CRISPR/Cas9. By developing wheat that produces larger kernels, the researchers will help IWYP achieve its goal of increasing yields.

Humans consume more than 500 million tons of wheat per year, according to Li. However, United States wheat production is decreasing because farmers can make more money growing other crops. He hopes that increasing the yield potential will make wheat more profitable.