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Saturday, April 20, 2024

UC Davis team discovers genes for frost tolerance in wheat

The worldwide food shortage and prices are expected to continue increasing until at least 2010, forcing the United Nations World Food Program to take precautionary measures, according to an article on allheadlinenews.com.

Data from the UN program suggest that the prices of some food items have drastically increased by 40 percent last year in some nations. The global food reserves have also decreased from 169 food-aid days in 2007 to 53 days this year, the lowest in 30 years.

Reasons for the worldwide food shortage are varied. Escalating prices for energy and grains, the effects of climate change and more farmers planting corn instead of wheat to supply the high demand for biofuel all can partially explain this growing concern.

The head of the UN World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, expects the millions of people living in poverty to be affected the most. They might have to buy smaller quantities of food, less nutritious food or depend on the limited aid if nothing is done.

Despite the desperation of the situation, a team of United States and European scientists from UC Davis have discovered the genes for frost tolerance in wheat, a potential aid to alleviating the growing concern of food shortage in areas prone to frost.

According to the team’s project abstract, the genes residing on chromosome 5A are responsible for a wide range of freezing temperatures that different varieties of wheat can tolerate. This trait, however, is regulated by more than one gene, which has made it difficult in the past to develop more winter-resistant strains. The study has shown that these frost-tolerance genes are activated when exposed to colder temperatures of about 53 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit in frost-tolerant varieties as opposed to in frost-prone varieties.

Wheat chromosome 5A plays a key role in the cold acclimation and tolerance of frost. The first major frost-tolerance gene, Fr-A1, and two loci on the chromosome that regulate the transcription of cold-regulated genes had been mapped before the study. This study led to the discovery of a new locus on the chromosome for frost tolerance, designated Fr-A2.

“We will need to study the different natural variants of these genes, do experiments to see which confer the best frost tolerance, and then introduce them by breeding into current varieties. If all of this is done correctly, we might be able to increase production in cold regions and even expand slightly the area of wheat production,” said UC Davis professor Jorge Dubcovsky and member of the study in an e-mail interview.

Published in the March issue of Plant Molecular Biology, the study provides understanding of winter injury, a vulnerability of wheat to be damaged if exposed to too cold of temperatures.

In order for reproductive development and seeding to occur after winter, wheat, along with other plants, must endure a period of cold. However, if temperatures are too cold during the winter or the spring, there is the possibility of freezing or damage to the crop.

The group of scientists used a variety of techniques including artificial freeze tests and determination of final leaf number and flowering response under increasing daylight regimes to determine the plant’s resistance to cold, according to the abstract.

Despite the potential for this newfound knowledge and its applications in the world, it is only the first baby step to providing relief around the world.

“There are no magic bullets to solve global food shortages. They are just long term investments in research to progress slowly in multiple areas of crop improvement,” Dubcovsky said.

Others, however, believe that there is more than one solution to the situation and focusing only on science is too narrow.

“It is our responsibility as a country to help impoverished nations with this problem. However, we should not just focus on science, but also the social and political situations,” said Kara Bellucci, a first-year women and gender studies and sociology double major.


NICK MARKWITH can be reached at science@californiaaggie.com. XXX


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