MANHATTAN, KANSAS, US — Kansas State University (KSU) and the University of Saskatchewan are teaming up to improve wheat using genome editing technology.

Groups will cooperate on a $650,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

KSU’s work on the project will be led by Eduard Akhunov, a wheat geneticist. He will work with Harold Trick, a professor in KSU’s Department of Plant Pathology, and his research team. Both will join researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in using genome editing technology to improve productivity and nutrition in the world’s wheat lines.

Akhunov said the genome editing is based on technology called “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” also referred to as CRISPR.

“CRISPR is a powerful and extremely precise molecular tool capable of making targeted changes in genetic code,” Akhunov said. “It allows us to produce novel variants of genes that have improved properties and create a positive impact on the traits of interest.”

Use of the CRISPR technology will allow researchers to zero-in on positive or valuable traits that can accelerate the development of crops that produce higher yields, quality and nutrition.

“Our project will use the capabilities of CRISPR-Cas (referring to use of the technology with an associated protein) to empower traditional breeding strategies,” Akhunov said. “Integrating this tool into modern breeding practices can substantially speed up the rate of genetic gain by accelerating the identification of agronomic genes, broadening genetic diversity, and reducing the time required for traits introgression (transfer) into the adapted germplasm.”

The University of Saskatchewan’s research will be led by Curtis Pozniak, director of the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan.

The goal of the partnership is to use CRISPR technology to introduce domesticated traits into wild wheat relatives.

“These efforts may pave new ways for broadening the genetic diversity of modern bread wheat by creating newly domesticated varieties of wild crops,” Akhunov said. “Our combined efforts should help to establish the CRISPR-Cas technology as a precision breeding tool in the wheat breeder’s toolbox for characterizing, developing and transferring traits into their breeding programs.”

The project will collaborate closely with NIFA’s Wheat Coordinated Agriculture Project (Wheat-CAP), a multi-state project; the International Wheat Yield Partnership; and the NIFA IWYP Winter Wheat Breeding Innovation Hub, which was recently established at KSU.