55 research institutions collaborate on genetic database
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Oregon State University researcher Patrick Hayes anticipates the next few years will bring rapid advancements in barley breeding from his program and the public sector in general.
Researchers at 55 universities and institutions in 21 states are midway through a five-year, $25 million USDA cooperative grant, called TCAP, that should make barley and wheat breeding faster and more effective.
Some participating institutions research specific traits in field trials while other labs characterize genetic markers within barley and wheat, paired with desirable traits in the top-performing varieties evaluated. That data is uploaded into a database available to breeders.
Hayes considers the cooperative grant to be "probably the best thing that's happened to wheat and barley research in America." OSU has aided in trials to test cold tolerance in 1,000 barley varieties from throughout the world, as well as trials to test for stripe rust resistance and efficient use of nitrogen and water.
OSU hopes to further reduce breeding time with the doubled haploid laboratory it opened a little more than a year ago.
The process uses tissue cultures to produce a plant from a single pollen grain. A plant resulting from a cross contains two gene sets, each one slightly different and leading to variability among progeny. In doubled haploid plants, the sets are identical so plants always breed true.
The lab charges other breeding programs $35 per plant and should be self-sustaining. Though the private sector has long used doubled-haploid breeding, Hayes said tight budgets have forced most public breeders to use conventional methods.
About 200 OSU barley types that were in the test-tube stage a year ago are now involved in multiple field trials thanks to doubled haploid breeding, Hayes said. Conventional breeding would have required about six years to reach that stage.
The American Malting Barley Association contributed about $10,000 toward the OSU lab.
Scott Heisel, AMBA vice president and technical director, said improved barley varieties are needed to keep barley competitive with other crops. Though private companies have become more active in wheat breeding, Heisel said barley remains heavily reliant on public breeding efforts.
Jorge Dubcovsky, professor of plant science at University of California-Davis, credited TCAP and a preceding cooperative grant with developing 34 new wheat and barley varieties and 30 new breeding germplasms.
His program has already made advances in disease resistance.
In 2003, he said, California lost about a quarter of its wheat to stripe rust. UC-Davis identified genetic markers for the disease and worked with a private company, which released two new stripe rust-resistant lines this year.
Gongshe Hu, barley breeder with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Aberdeen, Idaho, is participating in grant-related nitrogen- and water-use efficiency planting trials, evaluating 300 barley lines.
"It's difficult for one lab to complete this type of experiment. It requires several different growing conditions and genotyping," Hu said. "This water-use efficiency and nitrogen-use efficiency, no one has worked on this before, not this systematically."
Hu intends to visit OSU in May to discuss using its doubled haploid lab to speed his breeding efforts.