The LSU AgCenter’s wheat breeding program has begun using molecular markers — small fragments of DNA — to help with disease and herbicide resistance.

One project seeks to develop molecular markers for resistance to the wheat disease called stripe rust.

Steve Harrison, the LSU AgCenter’s wheat breeder, said the wheat variety LA841 appears to have a unique combination of genes that has been stable in maintaining resistance to stripe rust for about 12 years.

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Harrison is working with graduate student Alejandro Castro and molecular biologist Niranjan Baisakh to identify useful markers that have a high correlation to field resistance.

He developed a population by crossing a highly susceptible wheat variety with LA841.

“We derived 200 progeny from that cross and tested those progeny under heavy stripe rust pressure,” Harrison said.

The wheat was tested in three locations — Winnsboro, La., Plains, Ga., and Fayetteville, Ark. Harrison said testing in multiple locations means the wheat was likely exposed to different strains of stripe rust, which provides good disease ratings on the population.

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The next step was to chop the DNA into many small segments to determine which pieces occur only in progeny that are resistant.

“From that we can develop a molecular marker that in the future can screen lots of lines for presence of the resistance genes, without having to have to do time-consuming field testing across several environments,” he said.