UD’s Wisser receives USDA grant to study genetic barriers in corn

November 15, 2011 under CANR News

When it comes to crops in the U.S., corn is king. Just because it is king, however, does not mean that breeders and in turn growers are using corn to its fullest potential.

With this in mind, the University of Delaware’s Randall Wisser and a group of six fellow researchers have received a five-year $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to study the genetics of adaptation and crop improvement.

Wisser, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said that “there is a great deal of diversity in corn, or maize, particularly in the tropics, which has generally been underutilized in the U.S.” This is because tropical sources of maize are unadapted to North American environments.

Wisser added, “It is virtually impossible to realize the potential breeding value of maladapted materials; finding ways to efficiently adapt crops to new environments is a frontier of agricultural genetics research.”

Populations that lack genetic diversity can fall prey to climate change or other stressors by not having an array of genes on which to draw from. Breeding-based solutions to addressing abiotic and biotic challenges require access to genetic diversity. “If you’re drawing from a limited sample of diversity, the likelihood that you’ve got the necessary genes is less,” Wisser said.

Through its research, the team aims to help plant breeders increase breeding efficiency and access more genetic diversity, increasing their capability of responding to current and future challenges in food production.

Wide-ranging study

The research team is conducting a range of studies that combine field and controlled environment testing with genome sequence analysis and analytics.

In one avenue of research, they are working to better understand the genetics underlying how environment variables such as temperature and day lengths influence plant maturity, a primary barrier to adaptation.

When tropical maize is grown in a North American environment, like Delaware, where summer day lengths can reach up to 15 hours (compared to 10-12 hour days in the tropics), the plants are not receiving the appropriate signals that tell them to flower. They just keep growing, getting very tall and producing lots of leaves, flowering very late or not at all. The plants are out of synch with the growing season and get damaged by frosts or produce no seeds.

Maize that now grows in the U.S. has been adapted over hundreds of years with increasing selection intensities. Through many generations of breeding, an elite pool of maize plants have been developed for North American farmers that are insensitive to long days and flourish in these climates.

“In the process of intense selection, there’s been a big loss in potentially valuable genetic diversity,” Wisser said. “We are thinking about ways to recoup some of what has been lost to help deal with the complex problems of the future”

In another study of the project, the team will test if there are common regions in which the corn genome is associated with broad environmental adaptation or in which genetic barriers are created.

The group will track the flow of genes across generations of selection in the same tropical population adapted to a broad range of environments from Wisconsin to Puerto Rico.

“If adaptation is achieved through one or a few genetic tracks, then existing methods can be used to more quickly adapt tropical maize to different environments,” Wisser said. “If, on the other hand, there are multiple independent genetic tracks to adaptation then a different set of solutions will be needed.”

Wisser said he is hopeful that by studying the adaptation process researchers can pinpoint the barriers that limit use of tropical genetic diversity for North American maize improvement and “open the flood gates” for accessing maize diversity.

The research team

Other investigators in the study are Sherry Flint-Garcia from the USDA-Agricultural Research Services (ARS) and University of Missouri; James B. Holland from the USDA-ARS and North Carolina State University; Nick Lauter from the USDA-ARS and Iowa State University; Natalia deLeon from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Seth Murray and Wenwei Xu from Texas A&M University.

Further information about the Maize ATLAS (Adaptation Through Latitudinal Artificial Selection) project can be found at this website.

The study is funded by the USDA Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Agriculture program, which also funded research by Carl Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences and biological sciences at the University of Delaware, concerning heat stress in poultry. For more on that story, see the earlier UDaily article.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily > >

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Corn Hybrid Trial Tour, Meeting

August 16, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

All farmers and crop advisers are invited to attend the University of Delaware corn hybrid variety trial and twilight meeting on September 1, 2011. The corn hybrid plots will be open for viewing at this irrigated location starting at 4:00 p.m. Extension specialists will be on hand to discuss insect pest management in corn, management of diseases commonly found in our area, and weed control issues. Optimizing nutrient applications in corn will also be discussed. Dinner will be provided. CCA, DE Nutrient Management, and DE Pesticide credits will be available. Contact Phillip Sylvester, Extension Ag Agent, Kent County, with questions at 302-730-4000 or email at phillip@udel.edu.

When: Thursday, September 1, 2011
Time: 4:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Location: Dickerson Farms, 1730 Bayside Drive, Dover, DE (From Rt.1, take the Rt. 9 exit towards Little Creek. Farm entrance is on the right after Bergold Lane.)
Registration: Please RSVP by calling (302)-730-4000 by August 29 or email Phillip Sylvester phillip@udel.edu.

Schedule:
4:00 to 5:30 Sign-in and Tour Corn Hybrid Plots, Dr. Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist and Tecle Weldekidan, Scientist, UD
5:30 to 6:00 Dinner
6:00 to 6:20 Late season insect pest update, Joanne Whalen, Extension IPM Specialist, UD
6:20 to 6:40 Common corn diseases in Delaware, Bob Mulrooney, Extension Plant Pathologist, UD
6:40 to 7:00 Weed control issues in corn, Dr. Mark VanGessel, Extension Weed Specialist, UD
7:00 to 7:30 Optimizing nutrient applications in corn, Dr. Greg Binford, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist of Soil Fertility, UD

Submitted by Phillip Sylvester

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Delaware agriculture is an $8 billion industry, according to new UD study

March 24, 2011 under CANR News

Agriculture is an $8 billion industry in Delaware, according to a recent study published by the Department of Food and Resource Economics in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The study — conducted by UD faculty members Titus Awokuse and Tom Ilvento, with help from graduate student Zachary Johnston — used input-output analysis, taking into account the market value of products sold from on-farm production, revenue from processing and manufacturing of agricultural products, and inter-industry linkages to determine the value added to the economy.

A study of this magnitude had not been conducted since the early 1980s. According to the authors, this new report is much more accurate in its calculations for the true impact of agriculture in Delaware.

Historically, $1.1 billion has been the most commonly cited number for the impact of agriculture in Delaware. “But this is the total market value of agricultural products sold at the farm level, just a small piece of the picture,” according to Awokuse, associate professor and director of graduate studies for food and resource economics.

The new report shows that the processing of farm products adds a previously unaccounted for $3.8 billion. Forestry production and processing add an additional $831 million, with ag-related services (i.e. crop dusting, ditch digging) adding $28 million.

The research project was commissioned by Robin Morgan, dean of the college. “This study was needed because the impact of agriculture in Delaware is much larger than farm receipts and (the impact) should account for processing of agricultural products. Agriculture is a large and vital part of Delaware’s economy, and our understanding of its impact needs to be as accurate as possible,” says Morgan.

In addition to the total industry impact, the report provides separate results by county and for several key agricultural commodities: poultry, dairy, fruits and vegetables, corn, soybeans, wheat, greenhouse, nursery and horticultural products.

With Delaware’s long history of poultry production, it was no surprise to the authors that the majority of the economic value of agriculture comes from the production and processing of poultry products, with an industry output of $3.2 billion and over 13,000 jobs.

The report also provides a summary of statistics relative to the changing face of agriculture in Delaware, noting there are fewer farms in Delaware, but the size and productivity of farming operations has increased over time.

Awokuse notes that this trend is in large part because “both technological and biological innovations within agriculture now allow a single operator to be more productive and maintain a larger operation, hence the consolidation of farms across the state.”

And, according to the authors, the state of Delaware agriculture will continue to change.

“Farmers are being asked to produce more on less and less acreage and they turn to science and technology to make that happen. Agriculture is a modern, efficient, technologically advanced industry, even if the image is still rooted in a 19th century image of farming,” says Ilvento, professor and chair of the Department of Food and Resource Economics. “Changing that image, assisting farmers to find modern solutions, and promoting the importance of agriculture — that’s what our college is all about.”

A full version of the report can be viewed online.

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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CANR Hosts 2011 Northeastern Corn Improvement Conference

March 21, 2011 under CANR News, Events

The 65th Northeastern Corn Improvement Conference (NEC-029), co-organized by scientists at the University of Delaware, was held February 17 and 18 at the Embassy Suites in Newark, DE.

NEC-029 is one of three regional scientific groups that focus on corn improvement. The group has met annually since 1945, with participants from public and private sectors engaged in research and extension work on corn breeding and genetics, agronomy, plant pathology, and others in the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada. The annual meetings have provided a forum for sharing and discussing research results related to corn improvement and public policy issues affecting corn research.

The NEC-029 conference has directed the focus of several research initiatives including one initiative to combat gray leaf spot, a disease that threatens Northeastern U.S. corn production. As a result, researchers at University of Delaware, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, and Virginia Polytechnic and State University have collaborated to develop new gray leaf spot resistant corn lines.

Teclemariam Weldekidan, scientist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has previously served as secretary and president of the NEC-029 and organized this year’s conference. There were 45 attendees at the conference from northeast and mid-west states and Ottawa, Canada. Twenty-one scientific papers on corn improvement were presented by invited and volunteered speakers, including graduate students. Attendees were thrilled with all aspects of this year’s conference. Several noted the meeting as the best in recent history in terms of the attendance, agenda, and venue.

Blake Meyers, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, opened the meeting with remarks about UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources structure, mission, and philosophy and its academic, research, and cooperative extension programs. Meyers discussed the value of agriculture in Delaware and contributions from UD’s corn breeding program including a productive UD-Pioneer Hi-Bred (a DuPont company) collaboration that led to the identification of a gene for corn disease resistance. This was followed by sessions on a range of topics including breeding and genetics, corn grain and silage composition management, new product development, crop management/ protection, and disease and insect resistance.

A special report was presented by Erick Erickson, the special assistant for planning and evaluation for the U.S. Grains Council, who discussed “World and U.S. Corn Supply and Demand Outlook.” Erickson reported the USDA’s long term projection for U.S. corn area planted to rise from 86.5 to 92 million acres, yields to climb from 164.7 to 180 bushels per acre, production to rise from 13.1 to 15.3 billion bushels, and ethanol use to rise from 4.57 to 5.53 billion bushels by the year 2020.

The new biotechnology events combined with advanced breeding and crop production techniques may push U.S. corn yields to more than 200 bushels per acre. Since the world must double food production while using less water and land, this requires progress in increasing genetic potential, increasing water use efficiency, and reducing losses due to disease and pests and post-harvest. 

For more information on Weldekidan’s work with corn, visit [http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2007/aug/corn080906.html].

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