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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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The Crop Improvement and Utilization Research Unit (CIU) conducts research that integrates biochemical and molecular approaches with biotechnological strategies to enhance agronomic performance and end uses of crop plants. CIU is comprised of six research projects that conduct research on cereals (wheat, barley, rice), vegetables (potato), fruits (citrus, apple), oilseeds (soybean, castor), and rubber crops (guayule, hevea, sunflower).

CIU Research Projects

Molecular Analysis of Effects of Environment on Wheat Flour Quality and Allergenic Potential investigates how high temperatures during grain development influence flour quality and allergenicity. Using tools of molecular biology, protein chemistry and proteomics, the project goals are to determine the basis for changes in flour protein composition and quality that result from exposure to high temperatures during wheat grain development and to identify and characterize wheat proteins responsible for human sensitivities and allergies and develop methods to detect allergenic proteins in downstream products.

Production of Wheat Germplasm with Enhanced Baking Quality, formerly Development of Germplasm and Molecular Resources for Wheat Improvement, uses biotechnology to understand how genes and proteins control the end-use properties of wheat flour. Research also aims to assess and minimize the impact of transgene expression and integration on wheat yield and field traits. Transgenic wheat lines resistant to scab are underway, and new lines that are expected to increase selenium content in wheat flour have been delivered to ARS collaborators.

Molecular Tools to Minimize Risk in Genetically Engineered Crops develops tools to better control the impacts of gene integration and expression on transgenic cereal crop plants. Novel gene promoter elements will be identified and their capacity to precisely control transgene expression will be demonstrated. New recombination tools that allow integration of DNA into targeted locations and selective removal of unwanted transgenic DNA from the plant genome will be developed. These resources will be made available to researchers in the public and private sectors.

Molecular Genetic Tools for Potato and Fruit Tree Improvement research develops molecular tools for introducing novel traits into dicotyledonous crops. One goal is to accomplish genetic modification using "intragenic" or "all native DNA" technologies where native gene transfer sequences replace the non plant domains currently used. Finally, expression and down-regulation technologies are being used for metabolic engineering of potato steroidal glycoalkaloids and for pathogen resistance.

Developing a Domestic Source for Production of Ricinoleate and Other Industrial Use Fatty Acids is identifying and cloning genes essential for industrial oil biosynthesis and testing their effectiveness in altering the oil composition of temperate climate oilseeds. In addition, it is developing castor with reduced levels of the toxin ricin and the potent protein allergens, both of which deter re-introduction of castor as an industrial crop in the United States.

Development of Domestic Natural Rubber-Producing Industrial Crops through Biotechnology is enhancing latex and rubber yields using metabolic engineering. Concurrent research is performed to ensure that domestic rubber is of commercially acceptable quality, can be used in conventional rubber applications, and that unique properties are identified and profitably exploited in blends, composites and products. Metabolic engineering is used in attempts to improve sunflower rubber production to commercially-acceptable levels and quality, and to create rubber-producing tobacco. Effective strategies to reduce or eliminate gene flow from transgenic rubber producing plants in the greenhouse and field, while using marker-friendly or marker-free methods, are being developed.

Last Modified: 8/12/2016
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