Biotech Wheat Genetics

(Eric) Virus diseases have been the bane of wheat producers for a long, long while and researchers here at Kansas State have sought answers against these diseases in many, many efforts over the years. There’s been a significant breakthrough along that line that we want to fill you in on now. John, tell us what approach you and Harold have been taking here in trying to address these series of viruses. And it is high tech, is it not? (John) Yes, it is. But in a sense you take a piece of the virus and you put it into the plant and somehow it made the plant resistant. Now, we always thought it was a protein issue that was going on. But it turns out, the plant’s got its own little biological defense system. What we’ve done now is I took the idea and with Harold’s help, through his transformation facility, we’ve developed a set of transgenic wheat lines that have pieces of the… it’s called the coat protein, it’s that shell around the virus. And we’ve taken the genetic code for that protein and put it into the wheat plant. And what happens is the plant recognizes that this isn’t right so then it clips a piece of that and chops it up but then it keeps a copy for itself. (Eric) And then you have resistant…. (John) We have a resistant element. (Eric) Harold you were the technician and with your abilities in your laboratory, how difficult is it to introduce this kind of material into wheat? (Harold) It wasn’t really too difficult at all. It’s doing our standard transformation process where we actually introduce those small pieces. We generate the plant and then we go for testing. So, it’s not really a too difficult process. The problem is, is with this technology John described, it’s only for one individual, and so if we were trying to target multiple genes, we’d have to then make another construction, another vector for a second virus. And then create that transgenic, which we have done. So, we have different plants that are genetically resistant to wheat streak mosaic virus and we have plants that are resistant to tritica. And so, one of the problems we have is we would like to try to get something that has a broad resistance to all different viruses. (John) The unique part about this though, is that most of the viruses that infect wheat are
all RNA viruses, in other words they use RNA for their genetic code. So, they all use a similar system. So, that we’re able to target now, our yellow dwarfs, borne mosaic virus, we’ve done mixed infection tests with wheat streak and tritica mosaic virus and our initial results now is that they’re all resistant. And so we kind of, we think, we’re a little cautious, we’re very cautious, but our initial indications are, is that we’ve come up with something that provides broad resistance to these four viruses and we thought it was a big enough deal that we’ve filed for a patent. (Eric That patent is pending right? (John) That is correct. (Eric) But it is a genetically engineering process. So, where does this work go from here then? (Harold) Right. Well, like you said this is a genetically engineering project, and so to get it out in the market place is gonna take a little bit. First, public perceptions and also trying to market it to industry. However, we can tackle this by using a non-genetically engineered process by actually doing mutations and actually trying to go two genes, either one gene or the other gene off. If we can silence those through mutations then we could actually go through and just put that wheat through the K-State breeding program without any regulations. (Eric) Plant geneticist with the Department of Plant Pathology here at K-State Harold Trick and USDA Plant Pathologist John Fellers and once again they have been developing a mechanism for genetically engineering wheat to built in resistance to not only a couple but a variety of those wheat viruses.

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