2014 Research Report

Come see the many ways the U of I is inspiring discovery! More


UI scientists support Idaho’s wheat industry by developing new varieties, determining the best growing methods, and finding ways to fight diseases and pests that damage crops


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3 gentlemen in a wheat field

Growing an Industry for the Future

By Tara Roberts


To test the qualities of wheat used for bread products, researchers have one time-tested method: grinding their grain samples into flour and baking them.

But at UI’s Aberdeen Research and Extension Center, associate professor Jianli Chen is honing a method that could revolutionize the testing process – and help her breed stronger, tastier wheat varieties.

“In my breeding program, we’re developing genomics-assisted tools that can be used in the near future to predict these good qualities,” Chen said. “You can get a small piece of leaf, and when the DNA is extracted, you can do the lab work to see which wheat lines have the genetic markers associated with the good qualities.”

Chen’s testing methods don’t just lead to soft bread and chewy noodles. They also help her breed new wheat varieties with characteristics that help them resist diseases and pests, survive pesticides or require less water and nitrogen while maintaining their yield and quality.

Chen’s work is among a slate of wheat-research projects in Aberdeen and at UI locations statewide. As Idaho’s top research university, UI is dedicated to serving the needs of the state’s most vital industries. Agriculture was the university’s first research mission, stretching back to the experiment station’s founding in 1892.

UI scientists support Idaho’s wheat industry by developing new varieties, determining the best growing methods, and finding ways to fight diseases and pests that damage crops.

UI works in close partnership with the Idaho Wheat Commission, which has expanded its support for wheat breeding and disease research through two $1 million endowments.

The university also has a long history of collaborating with industry leaders – most recently, UI has launched a Moscow-based partnership with Limagrain Cereal Seeds, a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest seed companies. The partnership allows UI to share breeding resources with Limagrain researchers and double the number of places new varieties are grown experimentally. Joint varieties the partnership produces will be co-branded, meaning UI will earn royalties that can be poured back into research.

“Idaho growers are investing in their industry, and we are their research and development arm,” said Donn Thill, director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, the research division of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“We focus on what’s important to Idaho’s cereals producers. We’re going to address the problems that are most valuable to them.”