Maintaining competitiveness in the world market requires scientists to lay out a new roadmap for crops, according to a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station leader.

Bill McCutchen, Experiment Station deputy associate director from College Station spoke on “A Platform for Yield Gain through Genetic Discovery in Wheat” at the Small Grains Field Day in Bushland, Texas, on May 25.

“We have to maintain our international competitiveness, especially with our wheat program and our varieties,” McCutchen said. “That means we have to stay a couple steps ahead in the area of technology.”

One such technology is “marker assisted selection,” which he equated to building a map.

The Wheat Coordinated Agricultural Project, funded by the United States.

Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, uses DNA technology to reduce the time needed to develop different varieties.

Jackie Rudd, Experiment Station state wheat breeder, is leading the program in Texas with research in Amarillo, Vernon, Dallas and other breeding locations.

Texas’ scientists initial interests are greenbug and leaf rust resistance, McCutchen said. However, the possibilities are not limited to those two areas. It is possible to identify genes controlling traits for disease and insect resistance, as well as cold and drought tolerance.

In traditional breeding programs, a researcher may start with 200 crosses in year one and expand to 20,000 lines in the second year in several locations looking for one variety with the desired traits, he said. Most of these will be discarded until one product is found up to six years later.

Researchers can combine this traditional breeding with molecular breeding to more efficiently improve quality and yield of row crops, McCutchen said.

“You have to intertwine the genetic and environmental factors,” he said.

Traits important to growers are controlled by the genetic make-up of each wheat cultivar. A genetic roadmap leads to the identification of yield traits.

“Molecular breeding doesn’t mean genetically engineered,” McCutchen said. “But the use of molecular markers provides breeders with a more detailed roadmap to improve row crops like wheat in a more timely and precise manner.”

These yield genes can be mapped much like historical markers on a roadmap, marking the way to something significant along the chromosome interstate, he said, whether that is rust or greenbug resistance or some other trait.

Essentially, McCutchen said, this new technology will allow breeders to take a variety with high yield potential but insufficient rust resistance and streamline the process to integrate a rust trait from another line to produce a superior yielding wheat variety with rust resistance.

“We can expect to see the impact of this technology in the next five years,” he said. “It may take a little longer for wheat producers to see the benefits, but you will see products from this technology with corn and perhaps other crops within the next few years.”