February 18, 2015


Kansas U researchers develop wheat with better heat tolerance



Two researchers from Kansas State University in the US are working on a transgenic wheat that can endure higher temperatures during its grain development stage, according to a Topeka Capital-Journal report.


The plant is supposedly spliced with genetic material from rice, a process that can improve heat tolerance and yield, said Harold Trick, one of the researchers and a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology.


Wheat performs best at a temperature range of 60-65 degrees. However, every 2–3-degree increase in temperature could lead to 3-4% in yield loss, he explained.


For both Trick and his co-researcher Allan Fritz, the riddle lies in a wheat-based enzyme called soluble starch synthase, or SSS. The enzyme converts sucrose into starch which accumulates and takes up to 85% of the wheat's dry weight.


At higher temperatures, SSS begins to denature, causing kernels to wither.


"This is what we're trying to solve," Trick said.


Hence, the researchers examined rice, a tropical plant accustomed to growing under warmer conditions and that has similar genetic structures to wheat. In the process, Trick and Fritz discovered a single SSS gene which bestows stronger thermo-tolerance qualities when inserted into a genome.


The rice gene could also act as an alternate source of grain fill when the native SSS enzyme has exhausted itself. Thus, the wheat subject gains up to a 35% boost in yield.


"Our (SSS) gene is just one gene in the whole mix of traits needed for heat-tolerant wheat", said Trick. In fact, he and fellow researchers will examine the heat-tolerating aspects of grapes and the black cottonwood tree of the Pacific Northwest.


A patent has been filed to protect Trick's discovery but it may take years to get approval. The researcher also needs corporate backing to get the genetically modified (GM) wheat into the market.

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