Improving Grains Grown in Nutrient-Poor Soil

The ability to grow nutritious crops on nutrient-poor lands would be a major step toward addressing global food security challenges created by population growth, extreme weather, and a reduction in arable lands. Grain plants grown in copper-deficient soils, however, are less fertile and produce lower yields. The impacts on wheat can be especially pronounced.

Olena K. Vatamaniuk, School of Integrative Plant Science, Soil and Crop Sciences Section and Plant Biology Section, and Mark E. Sorrells, School of Integrative Plant Science, Plant Breeding and Genetics Section, are investigating the role of the micronutrient copper in the growth of wheat and the quality of the grain it yields. The Vatamaniuk lab recently identified a key protein in the wheat model Brachypodium that may be crucial to transporting copper to wherever it is needed within the plant. When the protein YSL3 does not function, plants accumulate less copper, are less fertile, and produce smaller grains with less protein. The relationship between copper distribution and the nutritional value of the grain remains uncertain.

Vatamaniuk is collaborating with Sorrells to improve the copper use efficiency and grain quality of wheat. This research will use whole-leaf physiology, functional genomics, high-precision phenotyping strategies, and co-expression network analyses to establish the role of copper and the YSL3 protein in the movement of resources throughout the plant. It will also determine their role in the carbon-nitrogen balance that ultimately impacts grain yield and protein accumulation. Other goals include identifying specific genes and proteins associated with the most efficient use of copper and linking particular genotypes to grain size and to the plant’s ability to distribute copper and allocate vital resources efficiently. Findings from this research could inform strategies for improving the productivity and nutritional quality of grain crops grown on agriculturally marginal, nutrient-poor soils.

NIFA Award Number: 2021-67013-33798

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$500 Thousand spanning 3 years

Sponsored by