Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cutting-Edge Technology: More Than a Bread Knife

Pollinating wheat in the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center greenhouse. You can see construction on the west side of the K-State football stadium from the windows of the greenhouse.
Though the ribbon cutting for the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center (KWIC) involved a bread knife, it's not the only "cutting-edge" activity going on there.

I understand bread knives. I don't understand doubled haploids. And that's OK. That's why we Kansas wheat farmers have people working at KWIC who do understand complicated "stuff" like doubled haploids.

Wheat has been a basis of the human diet for thousands of years. Bread in one form or another is a basic food source all over the world. It seems simple - flour, water, yeast and a few assorted other ingredients.

But wheat is actually a very complex plant. A typical wheat variety is hexaploid: It has six copies of each gene, where most living things have two. Its 21 chromosomes contain a massive 16 billion base pairs of DNA, 40 times as much as rice, six times as much as maize and five times as much as people.

Mapping the wheat genome is complicated business because wheat is a complicated plant. It's one reason that work in wheat genetics has lagged behind other cereal grains. But KWIC will offer opportunities for researchers to learn more and put that knowledge to use.
Different stages of growth in grow rooms at KWIC
KWIC houses Heartland Plant Innovations, which is a farmer-owned plant science company created by the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. HPI leases laboratory and greenhouse space in the KWIC to conduct their research on doubled haploids, which are genetically pure plant lines. Using doubled haploids cuts 4 to 6 years out of the normal 12-year development time for new wheat varieties that promise higher yields, disease resistance, drought resistance and other crop improvements.
When you visit a wheat research center, you may not expect to see corn plants growing in the greenhouse. But researchers are using corn to pollinate wheat and then are extracting the embryos. I don't understand much more than that. Let's get real: I don't understand that either.
Wheat plants are in the foreground, with corn plants at different stages of maturity growing in the background of the same greenhouse.
Soon, KWIC will be the home for a gene bank which will store genetics from the Wheat Genetics Resource Center at K-State. Since 1984, the WGRC has led a global effort in conserving and researching more than two dozen wild wheat and goatgrass species, including more than 12,000 strains. More than 30,000 samples from the collection of wild wheat relatives, genetic stocks and improved genetic resources have been distributed to scientists in 45 countries and 39 U.S. states.
Randy looks into a growth chamber which was sponsored by KFRM 550 AM radio. KFRM is the station for whom I do freelance reporting, giving a Central Kansas report Monday through Friday.
The process is complicated. That's why I was somewhat amused by one of the researchers' low-tech solutions on one table in the greenhouse. Yes, Styrofoam cups cover some of the smaller wheat plants. I didn't ask why.
Whether high tech (like doubled haploids) or low tech like Styrofoam cups, the work is important - not only for producers but also for the people of the world. By 2050, the world population will reach 9 billion. Improving today's wheat varieties will help meet the needs of a hungry and growing world.

While I don't understand doubled haploids, I do understand feeding hungry people. The KWIC also has a test kitchen, where Kansas Wheat and friends just finished testing recipes and selecting finalists for the National Festival of Breads, coming to Manhattan, June 20-22. You can come to Manhattan and watch them bake on June 22. Check out this recipe from the 2011 winner. The NFOB website has recipes from other winners and finalists.
The flour sponsor for the National Festival of Breads is King Arthur. But I had to take a photo of the "hometown" Hudson Cream Flour in the KWIC test kitchen, made by our Stafford County neighbors in Hudson.


  1. I see you are getting spam (above).... this was an interesting post... I had no idea about the KWIC. I also had not heard of the flour, and am going to go look it up right now!

  2. Kim, back to tell you I found out that Hudson Cream flour is sold at our Price Chopper in Bonner Springs, a hop, skip and jump away from Tonganoxie... thanks for telling us about this, I'm going to give it a try!

    1. Mary Ann - Yes, the spam is driving me crazy, but I hate to make it difficult for real people to comment. It seems to be getting worse. Anyway, I grew up using Hudson Cream Flour and highly recommend it. It's pretty much the only flour I use except when I need white whole wheat flour. They don't make that. They do make regular whole wheat flour though. Hope you enjoy using it as much as I do. Let me know!

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