WSU researchers advance drought-resistant wheat, soybeans with help from USDA grants

Andrei Smertenko

Researchers at Washington State University continue to improve drought resistant crops, thanks to more than $900,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The two projects at WSU were among 54 grants awarded for plant research, totaling more than $17 million, announced May 25 by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program.

Drought-resistant wheat

Andrei Smertenko, assistant professor with the WSU Institute of Biological Chemistry, received $410,000 to research cellular defenses against drought damage in wheat.

“Feeding an increasing global population and meeting the needs of Washington’s grain industry requires the latest research into wheat’s natural defenses,” said Jim Moyer, associate dean of research in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. “NIFA grants like these help keep Washington’s $600 million wheat industry relevant and competitive. This is a prime example of the critical importance of USDA research funding that, in partnership with WSU, is helping to feed the world.”

Mechthild Tegeder

Better soybeans

Mechthild Tegeder, professor in the WSU School of Biological Sciences, received $494,000 to study the role of important compounds, called ureides, in soybeans. In the long term, her team’s work could enhance soybean productivity and transfer these discoveries to other crops, improving yields.

“Professor Tegeder’s research has important implications for agriculture and food production, both locally and internationally,” said Patrick Carter, professor and interim chair of the School of Biological Sciences. “Her work is a great example of how biologists at WSU are addressing the challenge of sustainable resources.”

Congressional support

The USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, a priority for Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05).

“These grants, and the great work taking place at WSU, will help continue Eastern Washington’s support for agriculture and our mission of innovative research to help farmers feed the world,” said McMorris Rodgers. “Agriculture is Washington’s number one industry and I’m proud to continue to be a champion for a Farm Bill that encourages and supports agricultural innovation in our region.”

Soybeans are the dominant oilseed crop in the United States, and at more than 77 million acres, the second-most planted field crop in the U.S. after corn.

A $9 billion industry, wheat is the United States’ third-largest crop. Washington grows some of the highest quality wheat in the world, and is the fifth-highest wheat producing state.

Both WSU projects are funded through 2020.

Read more about Tegeder’s project here. Read more about Smertenko’s project here.

Source Contacts

Andrei Smertenko, Assistant Professor, WSU Institute of Biological Chemistry,
509-335-5795, andrei.smertenko@wsu.edu

Seth Truscott, Communication Coordinator, WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences,
509-335-8164, struscott@wsu.edu