CSU plant breeders have created a new variety of wheat that might one day be utilized by independent farmers to reduce the effects of the Russian wheat aphid.
Aphids are soft-bodied insects that suck sap from a wide variety of plants, especially wheat and barley. Aphids reproduce extremely quickly, which can lead to a rapid destruction of crops.
The new strain of wheat developed at CSU is known as Ankor. Researchers created it by adding a gene from the Halt wheat variety to the Akron variety, the largest single type of wheat in Colorado.
“We’ve been working on this variety for eight years,” said Jim Quick, former wheat breeder and head of the soil department at CSU. “The only difference between Ankor and Akron is its Russian wheat aphid resistance.”
The Russian wheat aphid entered Texas via Mexico in 1986 and rapidly spread to other states, including Colorado. During its stay here it has caused more than $300 million in yield losses and pesticide expenses. According to the Department of Agriculture, over 20 percent of small grain acreage in 16 western states was infested with the insects by 1993.
The Russian aphid introduces a toxin that reduces growth into the wheat, Quick said.
“The effects can be anywhere from negligible to complete,” he said.
Other types of control, such as using ladybugs to eat the aphids, were not effective means of controlling the all-female, asexually reproducing strain of Russian wheat aphids.
Scientists and researchers, by implementing backcrossing, found a way to keep the aphids from destroying wheat. Backcrossing is the process of crossing a hybrid with one of its parents.
“The product of backcross breeding is usually very similar to the parent variety, in this case, Akron,” said Scott Haley, CSU wheat breeder and leader of the Ankor project in a recent press release. “(Ankor) retains the qualities that make Akron a desirable variety choice in Colorado.”
The new variety will be released to seed producers this fall to increase production of the seed. In two years Ankor should be available to non-seed growers, Quick said.
Ankor is the sixth wheat variety created at CSU.