In the midst of a worldwide grain crisis, scientists in California report in Volume 67, Number 3 of the journal Plant Molecular Biology the identification of genes in wheat responsible for tolerance to freezing temperatures. Wheat breeders recognized the need to produce cultivars with greater resistance to freezing temperatures but have had limited success. This may be due in part to the complexity of temperature tolerance by multiple genes.
With funding from the NRI Plant Genome program, scientists from University of California, Davis and European institutions identified the genes that regulate temperature tolerance in wheat in order to identify frost-susceptible varieties. In this study, the team demonstrated that two of these genes are turned on earlier in the frost tolerant variety than in the frost susceptible varieties when the plants are exposed to decreasing temperatures. This early response may provide a longer acclimation period and consequently allow a better response to subsequent freezing temperatures.
Research is underway to utilize genetic markers for frost tolerance in wheat breeding programs. Results of this research should help enhance production by improving efforts to reduce the risk of winter injury in wheat.