Writer: Kay Ledbetter

Today’s research advances in the world of wheat genetics are getting a big hand from tomorrow’s scientists, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist who has had three students publish their research in major journals this past year.

These Texas A&M University students working through their doctoral studies have helped conduct major studies that improved the understanding of unique traits in TAM wheat cultivars released by AgriLife Research’s wheat breeding program, said Dr. Shuyu Liu, AgriLife Research wheat geneticist in Amarillo and committee chair of the three students.

man in laboratory
Dr. Shuyu Liu leads the wheat genetics lab at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Amarillo. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“When Texas A&M develops a wheat variety that has outstanding performance, it is critical we are able to determine what makes them superior and locate the genes responsible,” said Dr. Jackie Rudd, AgriLife Research wheat breeder in Amarillo. “Knowing what genes are located where allows us to build new cultivars that combine these characteristics.

“We are able to guide the student research to be an integral part of the wheat breeding process so that the results will directly contribute to future variety development,” Rudd said.

Their studies not only help the researcher’s current projects, but the students are getting valuable training for their next steps in research once they graduate, Liu said. They learn to fully manage a project – planning, designing, working together with a team, summarizing data, statistical analysis and writing skills.

Additionally, each student can bring a new perspective to the research, and with that, the collaborating scientists can learn from the students, he said.

In the past year, Liu’s lab and student researchers have received major exposure in three key crop science journals. All three students’ journal papers dealt with TAM 112 and TAM 111, two popular cultivars in Texas and the rest of the hard-red winter wheat regions, Liu said.

While working with Liu’s program, Silvano Ocheya Assanga had his work “Mapping of quantitative trait loci for grain yield and its components in a U.S. popular winter wheat TAM 111 using 90K SNPs” published in PLoS One.

young man in wheat field
Silvano Ocheya Assanga (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

This study used wheat progenies derived from a TAM 111 cross to identify major groups of genes that impact yield. The major components of yield are kernel weight, kernels per head and head per square meter.

That article can be found at https://tinyurl.com/PLoSOneTAM111.

Smit Dhakal had his study “Mapping and KASP marker development for wheat curl mite resistance in TAM 112 wheat using linkage and association analysis” published in Molecular Breeding. This study was about mapping wheat curl mite resistance and the development of high throughput single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, for marker-assisted breeding of this gene.

The journal article can be found at: https://tinyurl.com/MolBreedingTAM112.

young man looking into microscope
Smit Dhakal (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

“The source of this resistance gene is from goatgrass, which contributed the D genome to bread wheat,” Liu said. “This was bred into TAM 112 through the synthetic wheat cultivar Largo that was released in 1982.”

Yan Yang’s paper, “Developing KASP Markers on a Major Stripe Rust Resistance QTL in a Popular Wheat TAM 111 Using 90K Array and Genotyping-by-Sequencing SNPs” is scheduled to be published in Crop Science.

“Yan’s study identified a group of genes in TAM 111 that showed resistance to stripe rust, a disease that can be very devastating in wheat,” Liu said.

TAM 111 was one of the few resistant varieties to stripe rust up until about 2012, when a new race of stripe rust began to be prevalent, he said. Although TAM 111 does not effectively provide resistance in some years, the resistance offered by TAM 111 is still effective in combination with other resistance genes.

smiling young lady by brick wall
Yan Yang (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

These AgriLife Research projects are the effort of a multidisciplinary team, including wheat breeding programs led by Rudd and Dr. Amir Ibrahim in College Station, physiology programs by Dr. Qingwu Xue in Amarillo and Dr. Dirk Hays in College Station, and the Genomic and Bioinformatic Service Center led by Dr. Charlie Johnson in College Station.

Liu said equally important to the student training and research is funding. The funding sources of these research projects were a Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug Scholarship to Assanga and Yang, a Tom Slick Graduate Research Fellowship to Yang and Dhakal, and contributions from AgriLife Research, the Texas Wheat Producers Board and the USDA-NIFA International Wheat Yield Partnership.