MANHATTAN, Kan.-The Wheat Genetics Resource Center (WGRC) officially relocated to the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center earlier this week, marking the beginning of a cornucopia of partnerships that will be working together to progress research in wheat.
Following a meeting later this month, projects for the National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center will begin. This center will be the first of its kind bringing together private and public research to extract better wheat genetics from the 14,000 strains of wild wheat genetic material in the WGRC.
The center will focus on creating new methods for using genetic diversity to find solutions to problems for farmers and consumers of wheat. Industry partners will provide market awareness ensuring the delivery of traits important to end users. The WGRC contains genetic material from wild wheat varieties all over the world that researchers hope to use to create wheat varieties that are drought resistant, heat tolerant and insect resistant.
It takes an average of 13 years to identify desirable genetic traits and develop a market-ready wheat variety. The goal of the WGRC is to cut this time in half.
Bikram Gill, Kansas State University distinguished professor of plant pathology and director of the WGRC, will also serve as the director of the NSF center.
“Through a public-private consortium, we hope to leverage the diversity in the WGRC to add value to the wheat industry,” Gill said.
The WGRC houses the world’s premier collection of wheat germplasm and genetic tools. With the new partnerships the WGRC will be a center for improving the global wheat crop and solving problems that limit current wheat production.
However, the WGRC’s plan does not stop there. The idea is that the center will continue to grow, where new partnerships can be added at any time. It is an open membership to allow the addition of companies, international partners and universities. The goal is to create a central hub for wheat research where people come from all over the world and work together to make wheat research stronger.
“You get the new, better, wheat varieties and you also get a center for attracting wheat researchers and genetics,” said Will Zorilla, program manager at Earth’s Harvest, a nonprofit focused on expanding the impact of genetic resources. “There will be less duplication and a lot of collaboration. Instead of going out and doing it on their own researchers can focus and work together so they can get more with less resources.”
Graduate post-doctoral and undergraduate student researchers will do the majority of the work under the supervision of lead researchers. The result will be graduates going into the workforce highly trained in wheat genetics.
The new center will be housed at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in the Grain Science Complex at Kansas State University. The state of the art facility opened December 2012 and was funded by Kansas wheat farmers who saw a need for further investment in wheat research.
“Farmers should be proud because there is a lot of value to have a facility where there is going to be a focus on wheat research,” Zorilla said. “It definitely makes for a true collaborative research center. I do not think it could have happened at this scale if we did not have this facility.”