Wild emmer wheat: Potential genetic resource for wheat breeding program

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(Note: The following is a slightly edited transcript of a short K-State Research and Extension video by Dan Donnert, KSRE videographer. The video can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tN7rSOZkjI&feature=youtu.be – Steve Watson, Agronomy eUpdate Editor)

We have developed technology for targeted resequencing of coding regions of the entire genome, and we have this used this technology, called targeted sequence capture, for resequencing entire gene coding regions of wild emmer wheat and domesticated emmer wheat.

You can see some darker heads throughout the plot in Figure 1. This is material derived from wild relatives of wheat. In this case, it contains wild alleles of all three genomes of wheat. Wheat is a hexaploid species, so it has three full sets of chromosomes. Each chromosome originates from a grass species. We want to go back into that pool to find new genes to help us develop better wheat varieties for Kansas that have better disease resistance, better drought tolerance, better heat tolerance, and other traits.

Figure 1. Material derived from wild relatives of wheat. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tN7rSOZkjI&feature=youtu.be

Figure 2. Allan Fritz, K-State wheat breeder at Manhattan, explaining how wild emmer could be utilized in the wheat breeding program to benefit producers and consumers.  From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tN7rSOZkjI&feature=youtu.be


This is a project we’ve been working on for a few years, trying to start to transfer these genes into an adapted material. There’s already evidence that there are some genes here for drought tolerance. I have a student who’s been doing some screening for heat tolerance out of these materials, and there are some that have very good tolerance to high temperatures.

When we start talking about talking about dealing with climate change, a highly variable climate, having wheat varieties with the ability to deal with all these stresses is really important. We know from previous work at other places there’s some fusarium head blight resistance. There have also been resistance genes to stripe rust that have been transferred out of wild emmer.

We’ve done some preliminary screening and have identified some lines that potentially have wheat streak resistance. So there’s a lot of different traits there; a lot of value. It really goes beyond the commercial production side of it. We think there’s a lot of potential value also for consumers.

Wild emmers will go up in excess of 30 percent protein. We also know that you can find some wild emmer that have about twice the antioxidant capacity that domesticated durum has. Domesticated durum wheat is what the domesticated form of emmer is. So we know there is high antioxidant capacity. We know they accumulate iron and zinc at a much higher level. So we can start to talk about nutritionally superior wheat varieties that can come out of this material. We think there’s real value there, as well as for our consumers as well as helping production in an increasingly variable environment. 


 Allan Fritz, Wheat Breeder, Manhattan

Eduard Akhunov, Plant Pathology