M-13: Biotechnology and malting barley variety development—GM barley?

M. P. DAVIS (1); (1) American Malting Barley Association, Milwaukee, WI, U.S.A.

Raw Materials II
Saturday, June 7 - 10:00 a.m.-11:45 a.m.
Level 4, State Ballroom

Barley acreage has declined to historic lows in North America. Barley is a non-GM, primarily public-sector crop, with most barley research and variety development performed at state and provincial universities or federal facilities. Barley is facing strong competition from corn, soybeans, canola, wheat, and other crops that are receiving substantial private-sector investment, including development of GM varieties. Currently there is little interest from biotechnology seed companies in barley research and development due to its low acreage compared with major crops, and thus limited seed sale potential. It may be too costly to recover the major investment needed to produce and then obtain government approval for a GM barley variety. This could change as its cousin wheat moves forward as a GM crop, removing potential economic and regulatory barriers to transgenic barley. It may be that a unique gene, with worldwide value such as drought tolerance, could change the dynamics. These and other considerations will help answer the question of when our industry will be faced with GM wheat and barley. What are the pros and cons? Scientists have developed and field-tested GM barley, but no varieties have been commercialized for field production. Barley breeding programs are using the latest genomic technology to track thousands of genes to develop varieties with the best combinations from traditional crosses, and using other technologies, such as doubled haploid production, to accelerate development. An important biotechnology effort currently underway for the development of for wheat and barley is the federally funded USDA-NIFA Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project or T-CAP, a consortium of public-sector USDA and university researchers in 21 states. The project is working with a large group of barley and wheat lines to identify favorable gene variants for disease resistance, water and nitrogen use efficiency, and yield improvement and, for barley only, winter hardiness. Molecular markers are being developed to tag favorable genes and, through marker-assisted selection, breed by design and accelerate progress. Can public-sector barley keep up with the big biotech seed crops?

Mike Davis is president of the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA), a nonprofit trade association composed of U.S. brewers, maltsters, and distillers, large and small. AMBA’s mission is to encourage and support an adequate supply of high-quality malting barley and increase our understanding of malting barley. Mike received a B.S. degree in biology from the University of Connecticut, an M.S. degree in agronomy from Purdue University, and his Ph.D. degree in agronomy with a minor in biochemistry from the University of Nebraska. Mike is chair of the AMBA Technical Committee; executive secretary of the National Barley Improvement Committee (NBIC); member of the USDA-ARS US Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative Executive and Steering Committees; and member of the USDA-NIFA Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project Scientific Advisory Board.


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