College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Plant Science & Landscape Architecture

Dr. Jesse Poland Works with Breeders to Improve Wheat using Genomic Selection and High Throughput Phenotyping

PSLA Seminar Series: Dr. Jesse Poland
Figure from Poland and Rife 2012. This outlines the process of selecting wheat plants for breeding. GBS (Genotyping By Sequencing) can inform breeders about what plants to select.

On Thursday, February 23rd, Dr. Jesse Poland from Kansas State University presented his research on improving wheat breeding with genomic selection and high throughput phenotyping to the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is involved with this research, and enables data collection from field sites in Mexico, India and the US. The goal of wheat breeding has always been to improve quality and yield. Traditionally, plants with desirable traits are selected and crossed over several generations. This breeding process is very lengthy, especially in wheat, which has three copies of its genome. New developments in gene sequencing technology and data collection tools, such as temperature sensing drones, can allow breeders to make more informative choices and improve the breeding process (Poland and Rife 2012). This information is applicable to today’s breeders, but will be especially crucial as climate change and a growing population increase food demands.

               Dr. Poland is closely working with wheat breeders to identify wheat plants with interesting traits such as increased yield, higher amounts of protein, or higher quality kernels. Currently, this is done by experienced farmers walking through fields and marking plants with a certain trait, such as higher kernel count per plant. Dr. Poland hopes to expedite this process with high throughput phenotyping, or the use of drones and remote sensors to collect large amounts of data related to a plant’s phenotype or outward appearance. This data collection rig can also be placed onto a cart and driven through a field, which may be more accessible to farmers around the world. After data is collected, it can be plugged into algorithms that can be used to quantify phenotypes. These phenotypes are then paired with genetic data to make more informed choices. By determining what genes are responsible for which phenotypes, wheat plants can be analyzed very early and better predictions can be made about which plants should be further evaluated (Poland 2015). Making correct predictions early in the growing season about which plants should be evaluated is very important. A breeder can only grow a certain number of plants in a field, and not all of those will have a phenotype of interest. Of those selected plants, not all of them will be good plants for breeding. Eventually, this bottleneck results in only a few plants that can be bred. By using phenotypic and genetic data for a better, more accurate selection process, breeders can drastically shorten the time it takes to produce a new variety.


Poland, J.A., & Rife, T.W. (2012) Genotyping-by-Sequencing for Plant Breeding and Genetics. The Plant Genome 5:92–102. DOI: 10.3835/plantgenome2012.05.0005

Poland, J. (2015) Breeding assisted genomics. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 24,119–124 DOI:10.1016/j.pbi.2015.02.009


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