Imported knowledge helps Oregon growers

September 5, 2003

PENDLETON - When technical American know-how is sent overseas, people worry that it will come back as increased international competition for U.S. growers. A researcher at Oregon State University's Agricultural Experiment Station has shown that with agricultural technology, the transfer of knowledge goes in both directions.

Dick Smiley working in test plots in Pendleton, OR.Oregon farmers frequently gain valuable knowledge from technology imported from many other countries, according to Richard Smiley, an OSU professor at the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Pendleton.

In Syria, for example, scientists recently discovered that drought resistance in some kinds of barley was really resistant to a particular nematode. Little known in the U.S., the cereal cyst nematode coordinates its life cycle to coincide with the time when wheat and barley seedlings are most vulnerable. Damage to crops can be extensive in parts of the Pacific Northwest.

"French scientists have developed molecular technologies to quickly identify the presence of this nematode," said Smiley. "They have freely transferred this technology and we are using it to determine how widespread cereal cyst nematodes are in Oregon's dryland fields."

In turn, Australian scientists have recently developed rapid molecular techniques to identify plant genes carrying resistance to the nematode. Identification can now be made within a matter of hours rather than the months it would take in traditional field trials. The Australian geneticist is sharing this technology, and testing it at an international winter wheat improvement program in Turkey.

In Syria, at another international research center, researchers annually collect about 40,000 selections of barley, wheat and the grass-like relatives of wheat. Genetic tests of these plants identify particular characteristics that are catalogued in an international databank.

"Plant scientists and breeders throughout the world can search for and acquire germplasm with specific traits," said Smiley.

Among this genetic library are genes resistant to Hessian fly, a pest that can cut the yield of susceptible spring wheat varieties by 50 percent in Oregon and wipe out an entire crop in North Africa, according to Smiley. This quickly-evolving pest requires African and Asian wheat breeders to stay ahead by rotating a variety of resistant germplasm into new wheat varieties.

"Adoption in Oregon of tactics used overseas could greatly reduce the potential threat from Hessian fly and other pests and pathogens of importance to Oregon growers," said Smiley.

Formal agreements are being developed to link research at the OSU research center in Pendleton with programs in Syria, Turkey and Australia.

"We will test the most promising germplasm identified overseas to determine its resistance to local pathogens," said Smiley. "The successful germplasm from our tests become immediately available to local wheat breeders and to breeding programs back overseas."

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Richard Smiley