plant breeding

Dr. Kendall R Lamkey
Professor and Chair

Findings from an Iowa State University research team challenge previous understanding of the genetic control of traits associated with a “smart canopy” in sorghum.

Leaf angle has been an important trait manipulated to enhance yield for corn and some other crops. Plants with leaves upright at the top and more horizontal toward the bottom are idealized as having a “smart canopy” leaf arrangement, predicted to intercept more light, boost photosynthesis and increase yields.

This approach has not been a focus for improving sorghum, an important cereal crop worldwide for grain and forage production with potential as a bioenergy feedstock. The new research from Iowa State, studying sorghum leaf angle patterns and their underlying genetics and physiology, sheds light on opportunities to increase sorghum production. The findings were published recently in the peer-reviewed journal, Plant Physiology.    

Seed banks across the globe store and preserve the genetic diversity of millions of varieties of crops. This massive collection of genetic material ensures crop breeders access to a wealth of genetics with which to breed crops that yield better or resist stress and disease.

But, with a world of corn genetics at their disposal, how do plant breeders know which varieties are worth studying and which ones aren’t? For most of history, that required growing the varieties and studying their performance in the real world. But innovative data analytics and genomics could help plant breeders predict the performance of new varieties without having to go to the effort of growing them.

A new federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) will support Iowa State scientists and collaborators as they develop improved seed corn tailored to the needs of the rapidly growing organic industry.

The lead investigator for the four-year, $1,996,500 grant is USDA Agricultural Research Service research geneticist Paul Scott, an affiliate professor of agronomy at Iowa State. Thomas Lübberstedt, the Frey Chair in Agronomy and Director of the Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding at Iowa State, will partner on the project, along with Martin Bohn from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Angela Linarez from the University of Puerto Rico.

Dr. Lamkey, chair of the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University has been selected as the 2020 National Association of Plant Breeders Public Sector Plant Breeding Impact Award. Dr. Lamkey earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. degree from Iowa State University in plant breeding and genetics. Dr. Lamkey provides leadership and direction to the department in the areas of education, research, and extension. As one of his support letter notes: “Under Dr. Lamkey, the department has maintained its reputation for excellence and has added new initiatives in teaching and research that are helping it evolve in the future as a center of learning, knowledge and service.” (James Holland, USDA-ARS).

While growing up in Inner Mongolia, China, Iowa State University Ph.D student Qi Mu developed a love of science at a young age.

She found her passion for genetics in high school and attended China Agricultural University for her bachelors of science in agronomy. After earning her masters at Ohio State studying tomato genetics and morphology, Ames was the place for her.

“I spent several months working as a lab technician to gain more experience. This experience helped me confirm my passion for research and reminded me how much I enjoyed learning new things every day,” Qi said. “I wanted to keep improving and therefore I started my Ph.D study in plant breeding at Iowa State University.”

To meet the growing global food demand, plant breeding technology must increase crop yields in less time. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $748,548 Seeding Solutions grant to Iowa State University of Science and Technology to accelerate crop development. Iowa State University, KWS SAAT SE & Co, Beck’s Superior Hybrids, BASF, SAATEN-UNION BIOTEC and RAGT are providing matching funds for a total $1,497,097 investment.

A recently published study led by Iowa State University scientists applied a fresh perspective to vast amounts of data on rice plants to find better ways to predict plant performance and new insights about how plants adapt to different environments.

The study, published in the academic journal Genome Research, unearthed patterns in datasets collected on rice plants across Asia, said Jianming Yu, professor of agronomy and Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding. Those patterns allowed the researchers to develop a matrix to help them predict the traits of rice plants depending on their genetics and the environment in which they’re grown. The research could improve the ability of farmers to predict how crop varieties will perform in various environments, giving growers a better sense of stability and minimizing risk, Yu said.

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