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Database Will Disclose Promising Wheats’ Genetic Identity

By Marcia Wood
September 30, 2008

Every year, wheat and barley breeders mail snippets of plant leaves to an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratory in Fargo, N.D.

Molecular geneticist Shiaoman Chao is ready for the deluge of young, carefully preserved leaves that show up in her mail at the agency's Cereal Crops Research Unit in Fargo. She uses them in determining the genetic identity--or genotype--of wheat plants. The information she gleans from her analyses is invaluable to plant breeders because it can help them determine whether the progeny of their plant breeding programs have what it takes to succeed in America’s vast fields of grain.

Chao sends the results not only to the breeders, but also to a new database that she is designing and building. It houses the findings generated at her lab as well as from other research locations.

With breeders’ cooperation, Chao plans to eventually make the database public. She’s working toward that goal with ARS scientists in the Genomics and Gene Discovery Research Unit, part of the agency’s Western Regional Research Center at Albany, California. The California team, led by geneticist Olin D. Anderson, curates the massive GrainGenes database.

Plans call for Chao’s database to become accessible through GrainGenes. Breeders looking for wheat or barley plants with prized traits could search for those plants and traits on Chao’s database via GrainGenes.

GrainGenes is an apt choice of Web venue. In the United States and abroad, plant breeders and others already know that this site is a treasure trove of genetic information about wheat, barley and other “small grains” like rye, oats and triticale. Making the genotype results accessible there means they’ll be widely available as quickly as possible, according to Chao.

GrainGenes is located at

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.