Plant geneticist Ann Blechl holds a wheat plantlet
into which she has moved new, experimental genes. Blechl works at the ARS
Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif. Click the image for
more information about it.
"Winterizing" Wheat Plants Revealed
By Marcia Wood
March 12, 2004
Much of the flour that goes into
breads, pasta, cakes, breakfast cereals and other foods comes from so-called
"winter wheats," planted in fall and harvested in spring.
A mostly mysterious network of genes orchestrates the growth of winter wheat
seeds to ensure that wheat plants won't flower and form grain until the
greatest danger of killer frosts has passed. This is accomplished through a
natural mechanism known as "vernalization," during which the
developing seedling must undergo several weeks of exposure to cold temperatures
of 40 to 50 degrees F before it can resume developing into stems, leaves and
Now, Agricultural Research Service
scientists have helped colleagues at the University of California at Davis and
elsewhere develop the best-yet evidence of the role of a gene called
vrn2 in vernalizing wheat plants. The Davis team is the first to isolate
and copy--or clone--vrn2 from wheat. The researchers report their
discoveries in today's issue of Science, one of the world's leading
Plant geneticist Ann E. Blechl of the ARS Western Regional Research Center provided
the highly sought-after expertise necessary to successfully insert genes into
wheat plants. Those plants were essential for proving vrn2's role.
Several years ago, Blechl and her Albany colleagues were among the first in
the world to use tools of modern biotechnology to introduce genes into wheat.
Wheat's recalcitrance to accept new genes had greatly slowed the progress of
research designed to give this grain crop new genes to boost tolerance to
drought or to improve its nutritional value, for instance.
Currently, Blechl is investigating ways to genetically improve wheat to
reduce stickiness of wheat dough. Stickiness causes problems in commercial
bakeries as well as home kitchens.
At UC-Davis, the vrn2 research is led by Jorge Dubcovsky, a professor
of agronomy and range science, whose team had earlier isolated, cloned and
established the identity of vrn1, a wheat gene that also has a role in