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Asian wheat could strengthen U.S. wheat

Manhattan, Kan. -- Wheat species from Asia could aid in the U.S. fight against a blight that causes wheat to shrivel and turn chalky white, scientists in Kansas said.

Fusarium graminearum fungi infects wheat heads, producing mycotoxins that reduce the kernels' value and quality.

Wheat collected from Japan, China and South Korea contain anti-fungal genes that could increase resistance in U.S. wheat varieties, said Guihua Bai, a molecular plant biologist at the Hard Winter Wheat Genetics Research Unit in Manhattan, Kan.

The Asian wheat samples include 87 "landrace" populations -- domesticated species that have changed little since the advent of modern plant breeding.

In testing so far, 26 of the landrace lines showed high resistance to the blight, Bai wrote in the April issue of Agricultural Research Magazine.

The blight cost the U.S. wheat industry an estimated $2.7 billion when it swept through the Great Plains states from 1998 to 2000.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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