Seed World

New Technology Can Help Fight Against Wheat Diseases

John Fellers, molecular biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, and Harold Trick, a Kansas State University plant geneticist, have led an effort to develop a patent-pending genetic engineering technology that builds resistance to certain viruses in the wheat plant itself.
Although GE wheat is not an option in the market today, their research is building this resistance in non-GE wheat lines as well.
“Wheat streak mosaic virus is one of the most devastating viruses we have,” Trick says. “In addition to that, we have [other] diseases — triticum mosaic virus and soil-borne mosaic virus — that are serious diseases.”
Now Fellers, with the help of Trick, his wheat transformation facility and K-State graduate students, have developed transgenic wheat lines that contain small pieces of wheat streak mosaic virus and triticum mosaic virus RNA. Fellers says this work is a proof of concept, meaning it shows that researchers now have an ability to address these virus issues.
The fact that the process uses GE technology means that getting broad-resistance wheat would take some time, considering the public and industry would have to first accept it.
However, Trick says they are pursuing a non-GE method that involves turning off specific plant genes using mutations. With this method, the researchers could develop the technology and incorporate it into the K-State breeding program without regulations.