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University of Idaho adding molecular wheat geneticist

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

The University of Idaho is adding a wheat molecular geneticist with financial support from the Idaho Wheat Commission. The university and commission have also renewed their three-year agreement to support wheat research.

MOSCOW, Idaho — The University of Idaho plans to hire a wheat molecular geneticist this fall with funding from the Idaho Wheat Commission.

The university hopes to fill the new position by November, John Foltz, dean of UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said June 25. The commission will provide $604,000 for the geneticist over five years.

The new position is different from typical wheat breeding positions, Foltz said. The researcher will look at traits from a molecular and DNA perspective, working with UI’s Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies. The geneticist will work with the institute to guide the process for wheat, Foltz said.

“I hate to use the term ‘cutting edge,’ because it’s overused a lot, but this is really taking us in a new direction,” said Paul McDaniel, head of UI’s Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences. “It’s one that is probably going to be the future of a lot of plant science. I like to think we will be there in the thick of it.”

The commission, university and private partner Limagrain Cereal Seeds will continue to develop new wheat varieties, said commissioner Bill Flory.

“We should be able to isolate and bring to market specific traits for specific varieties that will benefit Idaho growers and Northwest growers, too,” Flory said.

Currently, development of a new wheat variety takes roughly eight to 10 years. The geneticist will likely reduce that time, said Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the commission.

“It will make the process more efficient,” Jacobson said. “There’s so much genetic information coming out now that this type of position starts to make a lot of sense, somebody who can focus specifically on the novel traits and get them ready for the next step.”

The commission will pay most of the cost initially for the researcher and a support scientist, with UI taking over the funding after three years.

The commission and university also announced the renewal of their wheat research agreement for three years. The commission will continue to provide slightly more than $1 million a year to support research by UI scientists to address issues for the wheat industry.

Funding for the geneticist is separate from the research agreement, commission chairman Ned Moon said.

Wheat farmers pay 3.5 cents per bushel for the wheat checkoff, 50 percent of which is used for research, Moon said.


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