Cereal Grains Breeding & Genetics Program

Cereal Grains
Breeding & Genetics Program

Globally, cereal grains account for two-thirds of human caloric consumption. Important to South Carolina agriculture, sorghum and small grain crops provide additional options for farmers to increase crop rotation, crop productivity, and farm profitability. End-users of cereal grains include those in the food and beverage industry, the animal feed industry, and the energy sector (i.e., renewable fuels). Because SC is a grain deficit state, more regional grain production is needed to supply our statewide end-users.

Wheat 2018 Nursery

SMALL GRAINS — In South Carolina, an estimated 180,000 acres of winter wheat and other small grain crops (oat, rye, and barley) are planted annually, and the value of production for wheat alone is over $52 million per year. At the Pee Dee Research and Education Center (PDREC), we are re-establishing the Clemson small grains breeding program in collaboration with the SunGrains (Southeastern UNiversity GRAINS) cooperative research consortium to develop adapted cultivars that consistently produce high yields for growers in the region. To reduce pre-harvest yield loss, we are focusing on improving resistance to common biotic stressors including Fusarium head blight, leaf rust, powdery mildew, and Hessian fly.

Small grain greenhouse breeding nursery at the PDREC.
Small grain greenhouse breeding nursery at the PDREC. Hundreds if not thousands of crosses are made each and every year to develop new populations for future field screening.
Scab nursery located in Kinston, NC.
Scab nursery located in Kinston, NC. Image courtesy of Dr. Paul Murphy at NC State Univ.

Screening for host plant resistance to Fusarium head blight in wheat — Clemson will begin evaluating thousands of wheat lines annually to identify advanced breeding lines with host plant resistance to Fusarium head blight, commonly known as scab. The nursery will be mist-irrigated and inoculated with Fusarium isolates that are cultured from local wheat sources. The goal is to increase the availability of adapted varieties with improved scab resistance. This project is supported by the USDA US Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. See ScabUSA and ScabSmart

Combine soft red winter wheat nursery
Combine harvest of soft red winter wheat nursery planted at the PDREC in Florence.

Increasing wheat productivity by optimizing nutrient uptake and utilization — To maintain global food security without harming our environment, wheat yields must increase without the reliance on greater nutrient inputs. In collaboration with the Univ. of Arkansas, we are characterizing variation in nutrient use efficiency (NuUE) in nearly 600 historical wheat lines. This study will help to identify and develop new wheat lines with improved NuUE to increase yield and quality under nutrient-limited environments. We plan to use genetic mapping and genomic selection techniques to advance breeding efforts aimed at increasing winter wheat performance in the Southeastern US. This is especially important throughout the Atlantic Coastal Plain where sandy soils possess low organic matter and poor nutrient retention capacity.

Sorghum panicles and seed variationSORGHUM — Grain sorghum (i.e., milo), a summer C4 cereal similar to corn, is a hardy crop that can be productive across many regions, including marginal drylands in the Atlantic Coastal Plain. At Clemson University, we are leveraging genomic and high-throughput phenotyping technologies to (1) identify useful genetic variation for sorghum improvement, (2) create parental lines and hybrids that are uniquely adapted to the environments of the Southeastern US and (3) improve nutrition quality, especially as it relates to human and animal health. Annually at the PDREC, more than 500 new experimental hybrids are evaluated for performance while several thousand breeding lines are screened for maturity, anthracnose resistance, aphid tolerance, yield potential, and grain quality.  View a recent news release on sorghum breeding and product development "Building a Feed Grain Pipeline Thoughout Southeast".

Sorghum lines field tested

Breeding sorghum for high quality and organic cropping systems — Sorghum’s genetic diversity and hardiness lends itself the ability to be utilized for many different purposes including production for grain, syrup, and fiber.  Annually, thousands of different sorghum lines are analyzed at Clemson Univ. for composition traits to optimize nutritional quality for end-use.  Drs. Dil Thavarajah (PI), Boyles, and Stephen Kresovich received an Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant from the USDA to develop nutritionally-enhanced sorghum and other grain crops that are adapted to the Southeastern US climate.  Field evaluation trials will be located at the PDREC, Piedmont REC, and two certified organic farms located in the Midlands of SC. View project goals and objectives.

Steps to genetic mappingTargeting secondary metabolites to enhance the safety and quality of feed grains — To support the regional feed industry, we are searching for secondary metabolites in cereal crops that have health-promoting effects including antimicrobial (AM) activity to reduce the prevalence of food-borne illness in the livestock industry. For example, anti-biotic free poultry now accounts for 40% of production, and this industry is searching for natural compounds in direct feed rations or as supplements in feed to decrease disease outbreaks and increase animal health. Poultry is currently SC’s largest agricultural commodity.  Collaborators on this project include Dr. Xiuping Jiang in the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences and Dr. Stephen Kresovich in Plant and Environmental Sciences.  Support for this project is graciously provided by the SC Dept. of Agriculture as part of the Agribusiness Center for Research and Entrepreneurship (ACRE) initiative.

Variation in host plant resistance to grain mold.
Variation in host plant resistance to grain mold.

Identifying genetic factors underlying grain mold resistance in sorghum — In a multiyear study, field inoculations containing several fungal species that cause grain mold in sorghum, including Fusaria and Alternaria, are being administered to 400 sorghum lines to evaluate host plant resistance and identify new resistance sources in diverse germplasm. Genome-wide association mapping will be implemented to target individual genetic markers or gene regions (i.e., QTLs) that associate with grain mold resistance to facilitate marker-assisted breeding. This study is in collaboration with Cornell Univ. pathologist Dr. Rebecca Nelson.

For more information contact:

Rick Boyles
Assistant Professor
Plant and Environmental Sciences
Clemson University
(843) 519-0488