UCD genetic studies boosted

$10 million in grants will help research on wheat and rice crops.

By Mike Lee -- Bee Staff Writer

Published Friday, December 12, 2003

The National Science Foundation is pumping nearly $10 million into research led by the University of California, Davis, to explore how different genes affect the qualities of rice and wheat plants.

The two grants solidify the university's status as one of the nation's top agriculture research schools and offer hope for farmers that lab work over the next three years will unlock genetic secrets to problems such as disease or pest susceptibility.

Davis researchers were given about 10 percent of this year's funding from the foundation's Plant Genome Research Program, making the university one of the top recipients nationwide.

Agronomy professor Jan Dvorak for the last three years has coordinated researchers trying to map the wheat genome, the full collection of genes for the plant.

His new $5.6 million grant aims to identify and locate 1,800 genetic markers in wheat that breeders can use to select higher-yielding varieties by either conventional or biotech methods.

Pamela Ronald, a molecular biologist and authority on rice genetics, was awarded $4.3 million to design short pieces of DNA that correspond to an estimated 45,000 unique rice genes.

Researchers could then use the so-called DNA "chips" to assess genetic responses to conditions such as drought or cold.

About the Writer The Bee's Mike Lee can be reached at (916) 321-1102 or mflee@sacbee.com.