Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Kansas State University's leadership in wheat research recognized with $1.6 million grant

Kansas State University wheat researchers are leading efforts to develop a better understanding of the wheat genome.

The National Science Foundation's Plant Genome Program awarded the researchers a three-year, $1.6 million grant to fund projects and collaborations to help train new generations to answer challenging plant genomics questions.

Jesse Poland, assistant professor of plant pathology and adjunct assistant professor of agronomy, is the principal investigator of the project "GPF-PG: Genome Structure and Diversity of Wheat and Its Wild Relatives." The project will focus on ways to improve the current wheat genome assembly by using genetic information. Currently, the use of molecular markers in wheat breeding is limited because of their size, which is five times larger than the human genome.

"If we think about the genome as a book, with lots of letters that need to be organized into words and sentences and ordered pages that make a story, we are at the point with the wheat genome of having sentences organized on a page, but not clear what order the pages should go," Poland said. "To really understand the whole story, we need to get the pages in order."

The project has the support of Kansas Wheat.

"Wheat farmers are excited about the work going on at Kansas State University and the advances that this project will mean to wheat genetics and leveraging diversity," said Justin Gilpin, CEO of Kansas Wheat. "It takes resources from important agencies like the National Science Foundation to support high-level institutions like Kansas State University that will really make a difference."

The project also will partner with the Kansas Foundation for Ag in the Classroom to develop education and training opportunities for future researchers. Kindergarten through 12th grades will receive information for plant science careers. Undergraduate students and postdoctoral researchers also will have education and training in genomics and bioinformatics

Poland said that with the generation of huge datasets, the computational approaches of bioinformatics to understand biological data are critical.

"The goal is to integrate more computer science into agriculture classrooms. Since data sets have grown larger, good levels of computer skills are needed," he said.

"Wheat continues to be a strategic focus within the College of Agriculture and across K-State Research and Extension," said Ernest Minton, associate dean for research and graduate programs in the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University, and associate director, research, for K-State Research and Extension. "We are very pleased that the work of Dr. Poland and colleagues was recognized as a priority for funding from the National Science Foundation."

Co-principal investigators of the project include Bikram Gill, university distinguished professor of plant pathology at Kansas State University; Sunish Sehgal, assistant professor at South Dakota State University; and Gary Muehlbauer, professor of agronomy and plant genetics department at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

For more information on Poland's research and lab members visit the Wheat Genetics lab page.