UC Davis Researchers to Prevent a Crop Catastrophe

Ella Sherry, Online Editor

As the world’s climate changes, crops have to change along with it. 

Around 1.1 million tons of common wheat are produced in California each year. Wheat is a vital grain in the human diet being the main ingredient of commercial products such as bread, pasta, crackers, muffins and other baked goods. 

Global warming is heightening temperatures all over the world and wheat breeding is being affected by it. 

The University of California, Davis is part of a research project that will look into how specialists can speed up wheat breeding to better adapt to the changing climate. 

UC Davis is ranked as the number one school in the country for agricultural and plant sciences. 

“[We need to] accelerate the cycles of wheat breeding to be able to adapt to a changing environment,” UC Davis plants sciences professor Jorge Dubcovsky, who is leading the research at Davis, said.

 “[The goal is to] develop new wheat varieties faster that are better adapted to the current environment.”

“When most people think of global warming, they don’t think about how it’s going to change crops in the most affected areas,” freshman Kate Sherry said. 

“Crops are obviously an important part of life, both economically and for food. 

“I think it’s great that [UC Davis is] part of this project.” 

The process of gathering data spans over miles with some of the research taking place in labs or wheat fields in Texas. 

“We will be using drones to get multispectral data from the breeding fields,” Dubcovsky said. 

“[It] provides information on the plant water statues, chlorophyll content, biomass, plant height and other traits. 

“Images will be processed in [a facility] in Texas and deposited in a centralized database.

“At the same time, we will characterize the genomes of the tested varieties using a medium-throughput genotyping platform.

“This data will also be deposited in a centralized public database that will allow us to integrate the phenotypic and genotypic information to predict the performance of future lines using only the genotypic data.”

This process is called genomic selection. It allows the UC Davis researchers to identify the best genotype and crossing cycles to accelerate the release of new wheat varieties.

UC Davis is not the only institution that is participating. Cornell University, Michigan State University, Montana State University, University of Idaho, Virginia Tech, Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others, are also researching ways to breed crops to survive in rising temperatures.

“[This project] will help us to accelerate gains in productivity and ameliorate the negative impacts of climate change,” Dubcovsky said.