Looking for new genes for resistance to wheat stem sawflies
Scientists discovered some 70 years ago that they could fight wheat stem sawfly by growing a new type of wheat. The wheat had a solid stem instead of a hollow one, making it harder for females to lay eggs and leaving less room for larvae to grow.
Montana wheat farmers still benefit from that breakthrough, and Montana State University now has a new grant that could add weapons to their arsenal, said MSU wheat breeder Luther Talbert.
With a five-year $500,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Talbert and his colleagues will screen 4,000 to 5,000 varieties of wheat that originated in areas of the world where wheat stem sawflies are a problem. The scientists will look for resistant traits that may be present in the wheat and then try to identify the genes associated with that resistance. New resistance genes will be incorporated into new varieties of wheat.
“I’m very excited. I have wanted to do this for several years,” said Talbert, a professor in MSU’s Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology. “It’s good that the USDA will give us the opportunity to do this. It’s good that our colleagues in the wheat breeding community are willing to help out.”
Peggy Lamb, an agronomist at MSU’s Northern Agricultural Research Center in Havre, said, “Any steps that can be taken to better understand, select and breed wheat that will help growers in the sawfly-infested regions of Montana and the U.S. is huge. Funding from this grant will definitely bolster the wheat stem sawfly resistance research that Luther and his spring wheat breeding program have been working on for several years.”
In addition to Lamb, Talbert’s team on the new project includes MSU entomologist David Weaver; MSU molecular biologist Jamie Sherman; Terry McKeever, a farmer near Loma; Shiaoman Chao, a molecular geneticist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Fargo, N.D.; and researchers at four international wheat breeding companies: Bayer CropScience, Limagrain Cereal Seeds, Westbred (Monsanto), and Agripro (Syngenta).
Lamb finds farms that have sawfly problems, then lays out an area for field trials, plants the seed that Talbert’s group has packed, and maintains the plots. The field crews of Talbert and Weaver will collect field data from the sites. Weaver and his laboratory staff will process samples to identify any potential new mechanism by dissecting stems. Sherman’s crew will help with genetic studies to identify the new genes for resistance. Syngenta will provide an observation nursery in western North Dakota to help the researchers screen and identify potentially new sources of sawfly resistance.