Supporting new wheat discoveries

Supporting new wheat discoveries
Sep 10, 2018

Funding from the Kansas Wheat Commission will help researchers manipulate the wheat genome

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

A state wheat group is helping to supply wheat geneticists with the tools necessary to make new crop findings.

The Kansas Wheat Commission will invest about $100,000 annually with Kansas State University (K-State) to help researchers manipulate the wheat genome.

“We’re always looking to make sure we’re on the leading edge of any wheat research, technology and tools,” Aaron Harries, vice-president for research and operations with the Kansas Wheat Commission, told today. “We have extraordinary talent at Kansas State University, so there wasn’t much hesitation by our board to fund this type of project.”

A global consortium of scientists cracked wheat’s DNA sequence code last month after 13 years of research. The wheat genome contains about 16 billion pairs of DNA, compared to about 3.3 billion pairs in human DNA.

K-State scientists will use a protein known as CRISPR/Cas9 to make changes to wheat’s DNA. The protein acts like a pair of tongs to remove unwanted parts of the gene or to implant new ones.

The funding will help provide Dr. Eduard Akhunov, a K-State professor of wheat genetics and pathology, and his team, with an editing platform, Harries said.

“We’re setting up a gene editing platform to specifically look at wheat,” Harries said. “Eduard is looking at a trait that would increase the size of the wheat kernel, but gene editing provides so much potential when you consider potential drought tolerance and higher protein levels.”

The effects of this type of research extends beyond the farm.

Geneticists may be able to manipulate the genome so that people with wheat sensitivities can eat wheat products safely.

“Down the road there are potential human health applications,” Harries said. “There may be a day where there’s wheat that people with celiac disease can consume. Those things are on the radar and are far down the road but are the kinds of things we’re working toward.” has reached out to Dr. Akhunov for more information on his work.

mareandmare/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

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