Plant Breeding & Genetics Research Areas 

Canola Breeding

Research Faculty

Michael Stamm

The objective of the canola breeding program is to advance winter canola as a viable oilseed and/or grazing crop for producers in the southern Great Plains. The program focuses on winter canola variety and germplasm development. Considering there are few public winter canola breeding programs the U.S., a unique opportunity exists to increase production and to promote winter canola in the region.

The canola breeding program relies heavily upon U.S. and overseas germplasm sources to increase the genetic diversity of the cultivars grown in the region. Traits of interest include:

  • Winter survival of adapted canola cultivars
  • Tolerance to sulfonylurea herbicide carryover to allow planting after wheat
  • Yield potential
  • Oil quality
  • Glyphosate resistance
  • Forage quality
  • Disease and pest tolerance
  • Shatter resistance.

Coordination of the National Winter Canola Variety Trial (NWCVT) is a significant activity of the program. The NWCVT was established to permit testing of commercial cultivars and advanced experimental lines in a wide range of geographic settings. Information obtained from this trial helps seed developers determine what experimental lines should be released as new varieties and where those varieties can be profitably marketed. Producers use the information to make informed variety selections.

Genomic Mapping

Research Faculty

Geoffrey Morris

The focus of the program, Genetic and Genomics for Crop Improvement, is to develop novel methods that utilize cutting edge genetic and genomic tools to conduct complex trait dissection and plant breeding. Current research includes:

  • Association mapping methods
  • Plant breeding methodology
  • Molecular mapping of complex traits in sorghum (e.g., drought tolerance, salt tolerance, grain quality)
  • Bioinformatics across species.

Sorghum is a main targeted crop of this program, but the program has also involved research in maize, rice, wheat, and perennial ryegrass, either directly or through collaboration.

Specific projects in this program spans across Plant Breeding, Quantitative Genetics, Genomics, and Statistics. General research interests of this program include:

  • Association mapping, joint linkage and linkage disequilibrium mapping, breeding methodology, marker-assisted breeding, genotype by environment interaction
  • Heterosis, metabolic control analysis, microarray, experiment design, mixed model, QTL/eQTL mapping
  • Genetic modeling and computer simulation.

Applying genomic technologies in complex trait dissection has generated vast amounts of data, the analysis of which requires a joint effort in genetics and statistics. There are many challenges in this multidisciplinary research, but such research also provides great opportunities for further collaboration among researchers from different disciplines with different specialties. Quantitative genetics has played a critical role in plant breeding and has also demonstrated its prominent role in designing and analyzing large-scale genomic mapping experiments. Three areas of research that showcase the role of quantitative genetics are:

  • Mixed model association mapping methods in genome-wide analyses of complex traits
  • Nested association mapping that combines genetic design, genomic technology, and germplasm diversity
  • Genome-wide selection methods that incorporate marker technology into practical breeding processes

Sorghum Breeding

Research Faculty

Tesfaye Tesso | Ramasamy Perumal |Geoffrey Morris

The goal of the K-State sorghum breeding program is to develop and release elite sorghum parental lines and germplasm that posses traits desired by the sorghum community in the Great Plains. The program particularly targets traits that:

  • Enhance drought tolerance
  • Facilitate weed control
  • Improve overall productivity and utilization of sorghum as feed, food and bio-energy crop.

To achieve this, we employ the state of the art molecular tools and conventional breeding methods. We operate in partnership with a multi-disciplinary team of researchers with diverse expertise including genetics, plant pathology, entomology, physiology, grain science, cereal chemistry and bio-processing. We continue to utilize the platform created by the Center for Sorghum Improvement and the Kansas State University Targeted Excellence Program to further enhance our partnership and collaboration to better target outstanding constraints and also exploit new opportunities (new tools and new uses of the crop) to enhance the competitiveness of the sorghum industry in the region.

In addition, our program has strong desire to engage in international sorghum research activities. Our international effort will focus on development and deployment of sorghum varieties and hybrids that are tolerant to drought, low input conditions, and major biotic stresses constraining sorghum productivity in developing countries. Apart from addressing food securities in the developing world, this effort will contribute to enhancing the value of sorghum as an international commodity.

Soybean Breeding

Research Faculty

William Schapaugh

This program focuses on the development and identification of soybean cultivars and germplasm that complement the growing conditions and production constraints in Kansas. This project provides improved genotypes with enhanced traits such as yield, stress tolerance, oil quality, and resistance to diseases and pests. 

The major focus of this research will be to develop cultivars and germplasm for use in the general crushing market. However, opportunities exist for soybean producer to supply seed for specialty markets involving the industrial or food use of specific cultivars. Cultivars used in the production of soy milk, tofu, natto and high protein meal are emphasized.

Germplasm with improved traits, unique combinations of traits, or new transgenic traits will have the following potential applications. 1) Our material can provide the foundation for the next cycle of genetic gain by serving as parents to develop new populations and new lines by other public and private breeding programs as well as our own program. 2) Our non-gmo and GMO material can be licensed and released directly as varieties for commercial production. 3) Our transgenic material may enable us to demonstrate to the soybean industry the feasibility of technology that will ultimately provide solutions to problems facing soybean production and soybean utilization.

This project also develops strategies for the deployment of varietal resistance to manage diverse and variable SCN populations and other pathogens. Characterization of virulence spectra for pests such as SCN will provide crucial information for both future variety development and better management practices based on host resistance.

Wheat Breeding

Research Faculty

Allan Fritz | Guorong Zhang

Kansas is often the top-wheat producing state in the nation. This puts the wheat breeding program at Kansas State University at the heart of wheat production in the U.S. Led by wheat breeder Allan Fritz, the wheat breeding team at Manhattan has responded by producing the most widely planted varieties in Kansas in 9 of the past 10 years.

The goal of the wheat breeding program is to develop and release new public hard winter varieties through the Kansas Wheat Alliance. Some germplasm lines are also released, in conjunction with the USDA wheat genetics program based on the K-State campus. The program focuses on the following traits:

  • High grain yield
  • Minor gene, durable resistance to leaf rust and stripe rust
  • Heat and drought tolerance
  • Resistance to Fusarium head scab, barley yellow dwarf, and Hessian fly
  • High quality for pan bread and noodle making

There is an extensive team of cooperators in the wheat breeding efforts at K-State. The main breeding team works with the world-class Wheat Genetics and Genomics Center on genomic mapping and marker-assisted breeding. This Center is housed in Throckmorton Plant Sciences Center, along with the wheat breeding team. Other cooperators include the USDA wheat genetics program, also housed in Throckmorton, the Hard Red Wheat Quality Laboratory, wheat programs in the Plant Pathology and Grain Science Departments, and an associated wheat breeding program at K-State’s Agricultural Research Center-Hays.

Wheat breeding receives generous funding for its efforts from the Kansas Wheat Commission and the Kansas Crop Improvement Association. There is tremendous producer support in the state and region for K-State’s wheat varieties and breeding program. The program has extensive greenhouse space, growth chamber facilities, and research plot acreage for screening of preliminary and advanced lines at 9 locations in Kansas and one location in Texas.

Wheat Genetics & Genomics

Research Faculty

Guihua Bai

The overall goals of the USDA Small Grain Genotyping Lab in Kansas are to:

  1. Develop new molecular marker technologies
  2. Implement effective strategies for their application in breeding for small grain crops
  3. Provide breeders the access to sophisticated and state of the art molecular technologies
  4. Maximize the efficiency of small grain breeding programs to speed up the process of new cultivar release. Outputs of the research program are to apply DNA marker information in breeding for small grain crops to accelerate breeding process and to identify novel molecular markers and genes for small grain crop improvement.

The specific objectives are to:

  1. Maximize the efficiency of plant breeding programs by refinement and application of high-throughput DNA marker-assisted selection (MAS) technology, resulting in the early release of superior germplasm and cultivars
  2. Develop new and robust molecular markers associated with resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses and end use quality in wheat
  3. Fingerprint a core set of cultivars and their parents with SSR markers to develop molecular marker profiles for these cultivars, which will be cross-linked to other genetic information currently available in other USDA databases
  4. Exploit new technologies such as microarray for gene discovery and selection in breeding programs
  5. Provide training and consultation on marker analysis to breeders and other scientists

Plant Breeding and Genetics Goals

The goals of the plant breeding and genetics program are to develop new and improved types of wheat, soybean, sorghum, and canola. A major emphasis of the wheat, soybean, and canola projects is to develop the improved varieties and germplasm through a combination of conventional plant breeding and modern genomic-assisted approaches. The sorghum project emphasizes the development of parental inbred lines and germplasm that combines desired agronomic traits. In addition to variety and line development, plant breeding and genetics research in Agronomy also emphasizes:

  • Germplasm characterization
  • Inheritance studies
  • Genomic mapping
  • Improved tolerance to biotic & abiotic stresses
  • Grain and forage quality
  • Bioenergy

Faculty and students have access to well-equipped laboratories with instrumentation for molecular genetics and genomics research. Extensive controlled environment chambers, greenhouses, and field research facilities enable the characterization of plants under a wide range of environmental conditions.

The plant breeding and genetics program has a tradition of excellence in graduate training. Students involved in various projects develop a combination of field, lab, and analytical skills throughout the training. Our graduates hold many high-level positions in industry and academia.