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Rare Breeding Line to Develop Waxy Wheat Released

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
October 18, 1999

Wheat breeders seeking to develop waxy wheat varieties now have greater access to a rare but necessary genetic component, with the release of Bai Huo germplasm. Bai Huo is an old, cultivated variety of Chinese wheat, known as a landrace.

No commercial waxy wheat varieties exist, but breeders--and the food industry--are intrigued. Normal wheat contains two types of starch molecules: amylose and amylopectin. Waxy wheat kernels contain no amylose. That makes the remaining starch perform differently.

Waxy wheat starch absorbs much more water, stays gooey after heating and cooling, and doesn’t lose water when frozen and thawed, according to ARS cereal chemist Craig Morris in Pullman, Wash.

No one is certain what food products might benefit from waxy wheat. But to explore the possibilities, Morris is working under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with a major food company.

ARS co-released Bai Huo along with Northwest Plant Breeding Co. of Pullman, Wash. Morris leads the ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory in Pullman.

Breeding waxy wheat is complicated because wheat has three sets of genetic material called A, B and D. In true waxy wheat, the gene that makes amylose fails to make a crucial enzyme. Several wheat lines have the faulty gene in the A and B sets. But only one naturally occurring form has ever been found where the D gene does not produce the enzyme. Japanese researchers isolated it--in Bai Huo--early in the decade.

But variation exists among Bai Huo wheat kernels. Unlike today’s varieties which were bred for genetic purity, landraces are typically genetically heterogenous.

For their germplasm release, scientists with ARS and Northwest Plant Breeding Co. identified the D waxy wheat gene in several individual Bai Huo kernels. They reproduced the plants in the lab and confirmed that each parent plant carries the form of the D gene that does not produce amylose. The germplasm will give wheat breeders a consistent and readily available source of this trait. Small quantities of seed are available to researchers from Morris.

ARS is the lead scientific agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Craig Morris, ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory, Pullman, Wash., phone (509) 335-4055, fax (509) 335-8573,