Crop Tech Corner

Midge-Resistant Wheat Comes With a Refuge

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
Connect with Emily:
Wheat growers in Montana can use a new midge-resistant spring wheat variety that includes an insect refuge this spring. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.

MIDGE-RESISTANT WHEAT WILL REQUIRE A REFUGE

A long-awaited spring wheat variety is coming to Montana growers, but with a catch. Growers must blend their plantings of the new variety, which is resistant to the orange blossom wheat midge, with 10% of a non-resistant variety of their choice. This type of planting, often called a refuge, is common practice for many corn growers but will be a new experience for wheat farmers.

The midge-resistant variety, called Egan, was developed by Montana State University (MSU) in response to the midge's sudden and destructive appearance in spring wheat fields of the state nine years ago. According to a university press release, the Egan variety is distinguished by a gene, SM1, which produces a toxin that kills the midge. Egan kills nearly every midge that feeds on it, which means any midges that survive it are likely to have an inheritable resistance to the gene. To safeguard the future of the trait, MSU's Montana Foundation Seed Program (MFSP) will sell Egan only as a certified blend with a built-in 10% refuge. In that refuge, researchers hope normal midges will survive and breed with any resistant mutants that survive the Egan plants. The MFSP is going a step further by requiring Egan producers to buy only the certified seed blend in future years as well to ensure that the variety is never planted alone and no resistant midge populations are allowed to build.

"It's important for all to understand how important the blend ratio is and a bit about the background, as the agreement is legally binding," Bill Grey, MFSP manager said in the press release. "This was a collective response for public good, and the certified seed only agreement is also dependent on a kind of handshake and agreement between neighbors across the state." For more information, see the MSU news release here: http://bit.ly/….

NUMEROUS NEMATODE BRAINS SURPRISE RESEARCHERS

Nematodes aren't particularly brainy creatures. In fact, their simple little nervous systems have long been favored by scientists for their consistency and ease of study. Now, new research from the University of Illinois has shown that nematode brains actually show a surprising amount of variation between the many different species. According to a university press release, the study is good news for farmers who battle nematode species such as the soybean cyst nematode (SCN), the soybean industry's number one most destructive pest.

Past nematicides that have targeted the pest's nervous system weren't selective -- they could hurt any nervous system, not just a nematode's, University of Illinois nematologist and study author Nathan Schroeder pointed out in the press release. This new research has identified unique neurons in the soybean cyst nematode, which opens up the possibility of a SCN-specific nematicide that would spare helpful neighboring soil organisms, he said.

For more information on the study, see the press release here: http://bit.ly/…, and the study itself here: http://bit.ly/….

IMPROVING CORN'S NITROGEN USE

Wasted fertilizer, polluted waterways, and algal blooms -- the consequences of excess nitrogen use -- have spurred the USDA to award a three-year grant to researchers at the University of Illinois and the Donald Danforth Plant Institute in St. Louis to improve corn's nitrogen use efficiency. According to a university press release, researchers received $250,000 to identify lines of corn that execute photosynthesis and nitrogen uptake differently. They will analyze those genetic variants to understand how corn takes nitrogen in and moves it throughout the plant, with the goal of producing plants that use less fertilizer more efficiently, the press release stated.

The research will also include the use of CRISPR/Cas9 -- a new cut-and-paste genetic technique that will allow the researchers to make very precise changes to corn DNA.

To read more about the grant, see the press release here: http://bit.ly/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

(PS/CZ)

Emily Unglesbee