Wheat research provides improved resistance to viruses

Posted November 22, 2016

Close up under a microscope of wheat streak mosaic. Photo by Jeanne Falk Jones, K-State Agronomist

Close up under a microscope of wheat streak mosaic. Photo by Jeanne Falk Jones, K-State Agronomist

If farmers could plant wheat without the constant worry of Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus (WSMV) spreading when the temperatures rise, we’d probably have fewer stressed farmers. Yields would be higher, and there would be less money going toward fungicides. That’s exactly what Mohammed Asif, Heartland Plant Innovations (HPI), and Guorong Zhang, Kansas State University wheat breeder, are trying to accomplish with the research they are conducting.

“This project will give rise to wheat varieties that will minimize the yield losses due to Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus and Triticum Mosaic Virus,” Asif said.

Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus affects many Kansas wheat farmers. The virus can cause up to a 15% yield loss in a single field and has an average statewide impact of 2% yield loss. The impact on yield depends on two things; the weather, and if the wheat variety is resistant to WSMV.

There are three genes in wheat being researched to solve the issue. The first is WSM1, a gene which provides resistance in cooler weather, ranging from 64-69 degrees F. WSM1 is also resistant to Triticum Mosaic Virus, another virus that affects wheat. Then there is WSM2, which also prefers cooler weather at the same range as WSM1, but is only resistant to the Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus. And lastly there is WSM3, a gene which thrives in warmer weather, providing resistance to Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus at 75 degrees F, while also being resistant to Triticum Mosaic Virus at around 64 degrees F.

The mission of the research is to transfer the WSM3 gene into other varieties so they will be able to have resistance to both viruses at lower and higher temperatures. Asif says once this research is complete it will lower yield losses, a major benefit for the Kansas farmer.

The research taking place has two main objectives. The first is pairing genes together in a variety or a line, and seeing a combination of the genes mixed together. This means pairing WSM1 with WSM2, WSM2 with WSM3 and WSM3 with WSM1. Once they evaluate these lines, HPI will give them to Zhang where he will plant them in the field to study the plant's response to WSMV. The second objective is to transfer WSM3 into ten different wheat varieties. HPI will then produce double haploid lines, a breeding technique that accelerates the traditional wheat breeding process. By transferring WSM3 into these lines, Asif aims to develop varieties with expanded temperature hardiness and resistance to WSMV and the Triticum Mosaic Virus.

The research, funded by the Kansas Wheat Commission, will benefit farmers immensely when completed. Developing these traits now will help boost Kansas wheat farmers’ yields in the future. HPI’s expertise in advanced breeding technologies, such as doubled haploids, makes the company a great partner for researchers nationwide. It takes breeders 12-13 years to conventionally breed a new wheat variety, but with the techniques employed by HPI, that time can be shaved by five to seven years, getting cutting edge genetics into the hands of Kansas farmers faster.

By Hannah Schlapp, Kansas Wheat Communications Intern