Saturday, December 7, 2013

Agricultural biotechnology from Texas A&M

In addition to all the medical uses of DNA technology I included in Tongue drives for wheelchairs and other health research news, there were two stories about agricultural biotechnology from Texas A&M University that also made their way into Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Comet ISON at perihelion).  Follow over the jump for two examples of how A&M lives up to its name of the Aggies while being a 21st Century technological institute.

First, Kay Ledbetter reports A ‘SNP chip’ will help cotton breeding researchers take giant leap.
AgriLife Research joins in release of new cotton genomic technology
November 29, 2013
COLLEGE STATION – Narrow germplasm base and limited technology have made it difficult for cotton researchers to identify specific DNA markers needed to locate genes that confer desirable traits. But that’s no longer the case.

Fruiting sites tend to be numerous and closely spaced on the fruiting branches. By analyzing variations among lines and individual plants and dovetailing that information with SNP data, scientists can typically figure out which SNPs can be used to select for the desirable genetic combinations. (Texas A&M AgriLIfe Research photo)

Lower branch of a potentially valuable breeding line of cotton with fruiting sites that are numerous and closely spaced. By analyzing variations among lines, like branch length and internode distance between fruiting sites, and dovetailing that with SNP data, scientists can typically figure out which SNPs can be used to select for the desirable genetic combinations. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

Dr. David Stelly, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research cotton breeder in College Station, said cotton is ready to merge into the breeding fast lane with the expected release of “cotton SNP chips” loaded with single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (snips). SNPs are variations within the DNA.

“The new chip will be the first of several quantum steps forward over the next couple of years that will open many doors for cotton breeding research and improvements,” Stelly said. “While DNA markers are not a panacea in themselves, they can turbo-charge the breeding process.”
That's for a non-food crop.  Kay Ledbetter also brings her readers AgriLife Research study narrows the search for greenbug resistance gene in wheat,which describes how this same technology will improve productivity in a major food crop.
November 26, 2013
AMARILLO – Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat scientists are getting closer to pinpointing the genes controlling greenbug resistance in wheat and recently published their findings.

“Transcriptomics of induced defense responses to greenbug aphid feeding in near isogenic wheat lines” has been accepted for publication in Plant Science journal. The article can be accessed at .
Most of the hard red winter wheat in the U.S. is cultivated in the Southern Great Plains, where the yields are hampered by several phloem-feeding insects, Rudd said. The primary pest, the greenbug aphid, is estimated to cause economic losses of about $405 million annually.
As much as I rail against Monsanto, my issue is not with the techology per se; I'm generally pro-science and technology and think that genetically modified crops will be necessary to feed nine billion of us.  I'm against their heavy-handed legal and lobbying strategies and tactics in service of a monopoly.  That's a recipe for dystopia.

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