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Drought-resistant wheat, soybeans WSU’s aim in USDA grant research

WSU researchers Andrei Smertenko - Mechthild Tegeder
Smertenko, Tegeder (l-r)

By Seth Truscott, WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences

PULLMAN, Wash. – Researchers at Washington State University seek to improve drought-resistant crops, thanks to more than $900,000 in funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The two projects at WSU were among 54 grants awarded for plant research, totaling more than $17 million, announced May 25 by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program.

Drought-resistant wheat

Andrei Smertenko, assistant professor with the WSU Institute of Biological Chemistry, received $410,000 to research cellular defenses against drought damage in wheat.

“Feeding an increasing global population and meeting the needs of Washington’s grain industry requires the latest research into wheat’s natural defenses,” said Jim Moyer, associate dean of research in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. “NIFA grants like these help keep Washington’s $600 million wheat industry relevant and competitive. This is a prime example of the critical importance of USDA research funding that, in partnership with WSU, is helping to feed the world.”

Better soybeans

Mechthild Tegeder, professor in the WSU School of Biological Sciences, received $494,000 to study the role of important compounds, called ureides, in soybeans. In the long term, her team’s work could enhance soybean productivity and transfer these discoveries to other crops, improving yields.

“Professor Tegeder’s research has important implications for agriculture and food production, both locally and internationally,” said Patrick Carter, professor and interim chair of the School of Biological Sciences. “Her work is a great example of how biologists at WSU are addressing the challenge of sustainable resources.”

Congressional support

The USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, a priority for Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05).

“These grants, and the great work taking place at WSU, will help continue Eastern Washington’s support for agriculture and our mission of innovative research to help farmers feed the world,” said McMorris Rodgers.

Soybeans are the dominant oilseed crop in the United States, and at more than 77 million acres, the second-most planted field crop in the nation after corn.

A $9 billion industry, wheat is the United States’ third-largest crop. Washington grows some of the highest quality wheat in the world, and is the fifth-highest wheat producing state.

Both WSU projects are funded through 2020.


Media Contacts:

  • Mechthild Tegeder, professor, WSU School of Biological Sciences, 509-335-7545,
  • Andrei Smertenko, assistant professor, WSU Institute of Biological Chemistry, 509-335-5795,
  • Seth Truscott, WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences,, 509-335-8164

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