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Photo: Adult Russian wheat aphid.
Russian wheat aphid. Photo courtesy of Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Canada Archive,

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New Barley is Bad News for Russian Wheat Aphids

By Marcia Wood
December 8, 2008

Russian wheat aphids hoping to feed and live comfortably on barley plants could be in for a big disappointment. That’s if they choose to attack a new kind of barley known as RWA-1758, which is highly resistant to the insect pest.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist Phil Bregitzer led the team that invested more than 10 years in developing and testing this superior barley.

RWA-1758 offers barley growers in places like Montana, Colorado, and Nebraska—where infestations of the insect can be severe—an effective, economical and environmentally sound way to quell the aphid. Cost-effective chemical controls aren't available for combating the insect, according to Bregitzer. He's based at the ARS Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit in Aberdeen, Idaho.

Bregitzer did the work with ARS plant geneticists Don Obert at Aberdeen and Dolores Mornhinweg in Stillwater, Okla., and Juliet Windes of the University of Idaho-Aberdeen.

The plant’s lineage includes another ARS-developed barley—one that’s intended to be used as a parent, or breeding line—and a barley chosen from among the hundreds of wild, rare and cultivated barleys in an international collection maintained at Aberdeen by ARS curator and agronomist Harold Bockelman.

The new barley’s resistance stems from a source different from that which protects "Burton," another barley from the Aberdeen laboratory. Having two different types of resistance gives growers a backup against aphids’ potential ability to overcome Burton’s resistance, Bregitzer noted.

RWA-1758 is what’s known as a two-rowed spring barley, meant to be planted in spring for late summer harvest. Its yields are on par with those of "Baronesse," a popular, productive feed barley planted widely across the Intermountain West.

Bregitzer and co-investigators described their work in an article published earlier this year in the Journal of Plant Registrations.

The Aberdeen laboratory is a national leader in developing new barleys for foods, malting and animal feeds.

Researchers and plant breeders can obtain small quantities of RWA-1758 seed at no charge from Bregitzer at

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