WSU leads development of heat-tolerant grain
Washington State University will lead a $16.2 million effort to develop wheat varieties that are better at tolerating the high temperatures found in most of the world’s growing regions - temperatures that are likely to increase with global warming.
Researchers aim to have their first set of "climate-resilient” varieties in five years.
"The project will benefit all wheat growing regions of the world,” he said, "as heat during certain stages of the plant’s development is an issue in most wheat growing regions.”
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 with an outsized importance in yields. A wheat plant’s productivity falls off dramatically when temperatures rise above 82 degrees F, 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 Punjab farm as a child.
The Climate Resilient Wheat project will continue efforts by Gill and colleagues to help wheat plants deal with environmental stresses. He is in the later 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 and fund research at WSU and project-related activities in India, said Gill.