Collaboration and cooperation among researchers and organizations are necessary to tackle the list of challenges facing the wheat crop.

USDA Agricultural Research Service: Mycotoxin Prevention and Applied Microbiology Research, Peoria, IL

Mycotoxins are toxins produced by molds (fungi) and can accumulate in crops, where they pose health hazards to humans and animals. Mycotoxins are estimated to affect 25% of the world’s crops and cost US agriculture approximately $1 billion each year.

The mission for the Mycotoxin Prevention and Applied Microbiology (MPM) research unit is to enhance food safety and crop production in the U.S. and around the world. Researchers use information from genetics, microbiology, chemistry and plant biology to develop new ways to limit mycotoxin contamination, control foodborne diseases, and improve crop production.

All efforts to monitor and reduce mycotoxin contamination require reliable methods that detect and measure mycotoxins. Therefore, a major goal of MPM research is to develop sensitive and cost effective methods for detecting and measuring mycotoxins.

U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative

uswbsiThe U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI), reauthorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, spends about $5 million annually on 120 projects to fight Fusarium head blight, commonly known as scab.

USWBSI coordinates work on this fungal disease to avoid duplication and increase the speed with which basic and applied research is translated into tools for farmers and other stakeholders.

Since this collaboration was formed in 1997, its scientists have helped the industry achieve a dramatic reduction of losses.From 1991 until 2000, an estimated $4 billion was lost at the farm gate due solely to scab. Since 2001, however, USWBSI leaders estimate losses of only about $500 million, despite epidemics in the mid-South (2003-2004), North Dakota (2005), the South (2009) and Ohio (2010).

This progress is directly attributable to USWBSI funding, which supports breeders working to deliver more resistant varieties and develop best management practices for farmers.

Despite these successes, scab is still a major threat to American farmers because of the complex, intransigent nature of the disease. Until farmers of all classes of wheat have access to highly resistant varieties, scab will continue to be an issue.

Funding reductions are also a threat to this project.

Learn more about this project.

International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium

iwgscThe International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium is an international group of plant scientists and growers dedicated to sequencing the wheat genome to enhance our knowledge of the structure and function of the wheat genome.

By increasing researchers’ understandings of wheat’s genetic material, scientists and breeders will be able to accelerate and even reduce the cost of wheat improvement.

The overarching goal of the IWGSC is to develop a high-quality, manually-annotated genome sequence that is anchored to the genetic and phenotypic maps.

The Consortium is committed to ensuring that the sequence of the wheat genome and the resulting DNA-based tools are available for all to use without restriction.

The wheat industry strongly encourages USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to prioritize participating in the international work toward completing the sequencing of the wheat genome by supporting work on the chromosomes assigned to U.S. scientists.

Funding for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Regional Molecular Genotyping Laboratories is also crucial to apply new genomics information and DNA molecular marker technologies in the improvement of wheat.

The wheat industry also supports the development of new methods to identify and validate genetic traits and to rapidly integrate these traits into market-ready wheat varieties.

Wheat Initiative (G20)

iriwiAs part of a broad agreement to work to improve global food security, G20 agriculture ministers agreed in 2011 to launch a new International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement (IRIWI) to coordinate research efforts internationally.

Primary objectives of the new Initiative are to:

  • Provide a forum to encourage collaborations among major wheat programs, public and private;
  • Facilitate open communication and exchange of germplasm and data under existing agreements;
  • Support data sharing through publicly-available databases and data standards; and
  • Press the financial needs of the wheat research community to key funding sources.

More than 100 members of the global wheat research community gathered in Paris, France, soon after the G20 declaration to begin coordinating the project. The United States, via the USDA, has joined the project, and USDA leaders and NAWG staff attended the kick-off meeting for the Initiative.

“The International Wheat Research Initiative provides a new opportunity to advance international wheat research cooperation,” said Dr. Kay Simmons, USDA-Agricultural Research Service deputy administrator for crop production and protection and a long-time wheat worker, who represented the USDA at the meeting.”

“There are currently wheat research initiatives focused on disease protection including the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative and international work with CIMMYT, plus many national initiatives.”

“However, international coordination and information sharing in wheat genetic resources, genomic strategies, agronomy and production, and wheat quality are lacking. This Initiative provides a mechanism for the international wheat community to coordinate and advance these research strategies for the first time.”

The G20 Initiative is yet another indication that the world’s political and business leaders are increasingly willing to tackle the challenge of dramatically growing demand for food.