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Gates awards $1.6M for wheat research

Published on July 31, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on August 28, 2010 7:29AM

Bill Gates

Bill Gates

Reducing height of wheat plant essential to prevent lodging


Capital Press

Work has begun at Washington State University in hopes of finding a new way to produce dwarf wheat. The work is funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation .

WSU researcher Kulvinder Gill in May received the grant from the foundation and the National Science Foundation's Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development program for his work on developing alternative methods for reducing plant height in wheat.

Dwarfing is important in wheat because most of the weight of the plant is at the top and can cause lodging, Gill said. The taller the plant, the more likely lodging becomes.

Under good moisture conditions, dwarfing genes can do wonders, Gill said, but in dryland wheat-growing areas, where the crop is sown deep in the soil, the genes compromise the plant's ability to emerge, Gill said.

Gill and his team are learning from a gene that's been used in sorghum and corn for decades. The gene reduces plant height by interrupting distribution of a plant hormone, auxin.

If the gene does the same thing in wheat, Gill should be able to produce a type that is shorter, with better root growth and a bigger spike of wheat.

"But that's all hypothesis at this point," Gill said.

Even if the gene does not end up doing the same thing in wheat, Gill said it is certain to generate a lot of information beneficial to growers in the long term.

A Gates Foundation representative declined to comment for this article.

"Having different genes to do the same thing is always beneficial, but we are convinced we will be able to generate a better plant that will do better under drought," he said.

The grant, which funds the initial project for three years, helps Gill to hire additional staff members.


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