Kansas State expands wheat research greenhouse

KWIC Greenhouse dedicated to cutting-edge wheat genetic improvements for Kansas wheat farmers.

March 15, 2018

3 Min Read
Kansas State expands wheat research greenhouse
Aaron Harries, Kansas Wheat; Angela Belden Martinez, EDA; Mike McClellan, KWC Chairman; Dean John Floros, KSU College of Agriculture; Betsy Wearing, Dane G. Hansen Foundation; Justin Gilpin, Kansas WheatKansas Wheat

On March 14, 2018, the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center (KWIC) unveiled its new 12,750 sq. ft. greenhouse expansion. The four new bays will house critical wheat research for Kansas State University (KSU) and Heartland Plant Innovations. This brings the KWIC Greenhouse complex to more than 22,750 sq. ft. of total greenhouse space dedicated to cutting-edge wheat genetic improvements for Kansas wheat farmers.

These new greenhouses will be home to researchers from the Wheat Genetics Resource Center, KSU's Poland Lab for Wheat Genetics and Heartland Plant Innovations. Molecular and genetic research done in the KWIC laboratories will be supported by the greenhouses, while a larger, more controlled environment will both enhance and accelerate results.

As part of the dedication ceremony, Bikram Gill, KSU distinguished professor of plant pathology, spoke about the recent sequencing of the wheat genome, which is about five times larger than the human genome. 

"Finally, after more than a dozen years of hard work, we deciphered the wheat genetic code, and we held a celebration at our annual meetings in mid-January 2018 in San Diego, (Cal.). This seminal effort of long-term investment in wheat genetics by KSU and Kansas Wheat Commission (KWC) really began in 1979," Gill said.

"In 1979, the Kansas Legislature funded my position in wheat biotechnology for feeding new genetics in support of the wheat breeding program, and in 1981, the KWC made a down payment of $10,000 to establish a Wheat Genetics Resource Center at KSU," he continued. "This annual support grew over the years and was at $100,000 per year for a total investment of $2 million until 2013, when I began my phased retirement. We leveraged this investment with another investment of over $25 million from extramural funds over this time."

KWIC was initially completed in November 2012. It represents the state's single-largest, farmer investment in wheat research. It was built by KWC -- through the Kansas wheat checkoff -- to get improved wheat varieties into the hands of farmers faster. It is home to the Wheat Genetics Resource Center.

Gill concluded by thanking fellow farmers and KWC "for their faith and investment" and also announced that he will "donate $10,000 to the KWC Research Foundation as a payback of $10,000 of Kansas farmers' grant money that founded" the Wheat Genetics Resource Center.

The internationally recognized Wheat Genetics Resource Center has a mission to assure future advances in wheat breeding by harnessing genetic traits from wild wheat relatives collected from around the globe. While the center already has lab space and a gene bank at KWIC, it recently moved into its own greenhouse bay in the expansion. Researchers for the Wheat Genetics Resource Center are working to discover genes for drought tolerance and resistance to viral, bacterial, fungal and insect pests. Once these genes are identified, they are transferred to modern breeding lines, ultimately to be released for farmers around the world.

The Poland Lab for Wheat Genetics at KSU focuses on developing improved wheat germplasm, along with novel breeding tools and methodologies. Research areas include technologies such as developing uses for drones in wheat improvement, high-throughput phenotyping, prediction models for wheat breeding, genome sequencing and much more.

Heartland Plant Innovations was created with the intent of revolutionizing plant breeding and genetics and works to develop advanced technologies for gene discovery, trait validation and crop improvement. It focuses on doubled haploid production (a process that shaves five to seven years off of wheat variety development), trait development, contract research and wide crossing (a joint program with the the Wheat Genetics Resource Center that inserts traits from ancient wheat into modern varieties).

The 12,750 sq. ft. expansion was constructed adjacent to the existing four greenhouse bays, offices and laboratories at KWIC. The new space includes separate rooms for potting, seed processing, soil preparation and a soil room to receive and handle bulk potting. Special temperature control and grid lighting systems were also included in the project.

The majority of funding for the expansion came from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, KSU and KWC, with additional support from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation.

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