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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Logan, Utah » Forage and Range Research » Research » Research Project #437735

Research Project: Innovations in Plant Genetics to Develop Intermediate Wheatgrass as a Next-Generation Sustainable Crop

Location: Forage and Range Research

Project Number: 2080-21500-002-001-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2020
End Date: Apr 30, 2024

Our project seeks to rapidly increase the grain yield potential of intermediate wheatgrass through advanced plant breeding and genomics technologies leading to a widely adapted dual-purpose perennial forage and grain crop that provides valuable ecosystem services related to soil health, water quality, and habitat. Currently, there are three breeding programs targeting distinct regions for IWG production: Midwest (Minnesota), Central Plains (Kansas), and West (Utah). We have made considerable breeding progress in a short period of time and improved germplasm will help ensure the initial success of this new perennial grain crop. While each program is developing germplasm and varieties suited to their region, this project seeks to fill research gaps prevalent to all locations. The major objectives of this proposal are to develop and optimize robust genomic selection methods for traits related to grain yield and disease resistance; improve the breeding populations in all three IWG breeding programs to the point of development, and release improved IWG varieties to growers; develop a cost-efficient next-generation genotyping method; and understand the domestication genetics of IWG with genetic mapping studies as well as functional and comparative genomics; use association mapping to identify loci resistant to FHB, bacterial leaf streak, and spot blotch; identify candidate disease resistance genes from wheat and barley in the IWG genome sequence.

To accelerate and optimize our existing GS methods, training and breeding populations will be evaluated in all three breeding programs. Training populations with about 560 genets with 70 families with 8 individuals per family at two locations for each program. Breeding populations of nearly 5000 genets will be sequenced and evaluated 2021 and 2023 in each in program. Testing of different GS models will commence in 2021, after first year phenotyping of the training populations in KS, MN, and UT. Models will be updated each year with the availability of additional phenotypic data sets. To develop methods to breed for sustained grain yield in a perennial crop, half-sib populations will be evaluated for sustained yield in for up to 4 years. Populations will be planted in 2020 at two locations in KS and MN, and at least one irrigated and one non-irrigated location in UT or southern ID in twin-rows. Grain yield, seed size, and plant height will be measured at all locations during 2021-2024. GWAS will be carried out each year to understand how yield performance is affected by ageing stands and the genomic regions associated with it. Likewise, genomic prediction models will be trained each year to observe the differences in marker values as sustained yield changes in the half-sibs. Multi-location data is expected to provide sound information to the prediction models and assist in selection of genotypes with superior performance. To expand knowledge about the genetics of domestication, all training populations will be phenotyped for domestication traits such as shattering resistance, free threshing ability, seed size, and reduced height. This will be carried out during 2021-2023.Phenotypic data will be used to carry out GWAS (2022, 2023). Using comparative genomics, identified genomic regions will be searched against wheat and barley genomes to discover regions with known domestication genes and syntenous regions Develop efficient protocols to breed for disease resistance. Selection for disease resistance can be challenging in perennial crops when natural infection rates can be highly variable depending on environment and year. Develop efficient screening protocols for three significant diseases that are potentially devastating in IWG: ergot and Fusarium head blight (scab), bacterial leaf streak, and spot blotch. This knowledge will directly inform GS models or marker assisted selection to accelerate disease resistance breeding in IWG. Establishment of Fusarium head blight disease nursery in KS during 2020-2022. Phenotyping of FHB, bacterial leaf streak, and spot blotch in KS training populations during 2021-2024. Phenotyping of FHB and ergot in MN training populations during 2021-2024.