Process of producing new wheat varieties requires teamwork, technology


K-State retains right to collaborate with other institutions
Wheat contains more than 90,000 genes, making it roughly five times larger than the human genome. This means there are many different combinations possible to make many different varieties of wheat. Some farmers need wheat that is resistant to leaf or stem rust, while others need wheat with acid soil tolerance. Wheat is also rated on size, weight, milling quality, baking quality and dozens of other characteristics.

The partnership between Monsanto and K-State was carefully developed to allow K-State to collaborate with other universities on wheat research and share findings. For example, Colorado State University developed a variety of wheat called Denali, which has very good drought tolerance. This makes it more suitable to grow in arid areas of western Kansas than in most areas of Colorado. Subsequently, K-State and Colorado State co-released Denali wheat to market it to wheat producers in areas that can most benefit from it.

DNA fingerprinting, seed chipping technology cut down production time
Monsanto owns a method of extracting DNA from plant seeds called “seed chipping.” Essentially, a tiny chip is removed from the seed and is used for DNA fingerprinting. In the past, fingerprinting, which does not genetically modify the seed in any way, required that the entire seed be destroyed, or that the plant be grown first. Chipping leaves the seed mostly intact and viable, which means it can be checked for desired traits first. This helps speed up the process of crossing two varieties of wheat for a new and improved variety.

Crossing two plants with desired traits does not guarantee that the desired traits will be passed on to the next generation of plants, just as brothers and sisters in a single family can inherit different traits from the same parents. It all depends on which combination of genes gets passed on in what way. Seed chipping and DNA fingerprinting technology allows K-State researchers to cut down the amount of time necessary to produce a new variety of wheat with the traits desired by specific wheat producers.