Full Circle: Perennial Wheat Could Fulfill a Tradition and Transform a Landscape

By Tim Steury, Washington State Magazine

One of the major obstacles confronting plant pathologist Tim Murray (left) and geneticist Steve Jones in their quest for perennial wheat is the time required for field testing. Work in the greenhouse helps to reduce that time.

Research on perennial wheat has proffered not only promise, but genetically, a big surprise. Conventional wisdom has long held that the factors determining whether a plant is annual or perennial are very complex, influenced in subtle ways by genes spread over a number of the plant’s chromosomes.

Faced with this complexity, breeding perennial habits into domestic wheat would seem daunting, if not impossible, due to the fact that the chromosomes of wheat and its wild relatives do not pair.

Even though hybridization is still possible, if chromosomes do not pair, says WSU geneticist Steve Jones, two things are likely to occur. One is sterility. The other is that the chromosomes cannot exchange genetic material.

“If you cross normal wheat A with normal wheat B,” says Jones, “they combine and recombine chromosomes like most living things do. But in these crosses they don’t. So that greatly complicates things.”

Complicated as combining the best traits from wheat and its wild relatives is, however, what Jones and plant pathologist Tim Murray have found concerning the genetic stimulus toward perennialism very much contradicts the conventional wisdom.

Contact: Timothy Murray, Professor and Chair, Plant Pathology, 509-335-7515, tim_murray@wsu.edu; or Stephen Jones, Associate Scientist, 509-335-6198, joness@wsu.edu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *