WASHINGTON, D.C. - Virginia Tech and Monsanto announced this week a collaboration they say will help both parties improve their wheat breeding programs and varieties.

Under the agreement's terms, which were not disclosed, it is expected Monsanto will gain access to Virginia Tech's wheat germplasm pool, and Virginia Tech will gain access to the advanced breeding technologies Monsanto continues to develop.

The agreement will focus initially on breeding for attributes that affect yield, including resistance to Fusarium head blight, known as scab, and drought resistance.

In a release, university officials said the partnership would leverage existing investments and increase their resources to do such work.

Carl Griffey, wheat breeder and professor of crop and soil environmental sciences at Virginia Tech, said working with companies like Monsanto will give Virginia Tech the potential to more efficiently develop better varieties for growers.

"Virginia Tech will have immediate access to the latest technologies for trait and line selection using marker-assisted breeding and, ultimately, timely access to unique value-added traits, both of which will make wheat production more competitive and profitable," he said.

The release said the collaboration is non-exclusive, meaning both parties are free to form additional collaborative arrangements with other public or private entities. In fact, Griffey said Virginia Tech will continue to work with other public wheat breeding programs, as it has in the past.

The release also said Virginia Tech will continue efforts to develop and release wheat varieties with improved performance in the way it does today, through public, nonexclusive and exclusive variety releases marketed by local, state and regional seed companies.

The collaboration agreement was negotiated in consultation with the Virginia Grain Producers Association and is in accordance with principles for collaboration approved by the NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates Joint Biotechnology Committee.

The Virginia Tech announcement is the second such agreement Monsanto has entered into with a public breeding program. In June, the company and Kansas State University announced a collaboration, also based on the Joint Biotech Committee's principles.

The announcement is one of many new wheat research investments and collaborations in the past few years, as NAWG and others in the wheat community have focused increased attention on the issue of wheat competitiveness and demonstrated growers' desire for wheat biotechnology.

To see a timeline of wheat research-related announcements since 2008, please go to www.wheatworld.org/biotech and click on "Wheat Research Investments Since 2008" in the "Related Resources".

SOURCE: National Association of Wheat Growers