The project is aimed at engineering wheat seeds capable of thriving in warmer temperatures, as evidence is mounting that global warming is slowing down wheat yield across the globe.
“We’re taking a concept that is pretty important for wheat worldwide,” said Dr Brad Fabbri, chief science officer of TechAccel, which invests in early-stage innovations and sees them through to commercialization.
Global warming = lower yields
The optimum temperature for the development of wheat grain is 15°C-20°C (59°F-68°F), however, a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August last year reported yields are reduced by 6% for every 1°C (almost 2°F) rise in global mean temperature.
With the backing from TechAccel, researchers at UC Davis’ Siegel Lab are conducting a series of lab experiments on native wheat enzymes in several varieties of wheat to determine their activity and sensitivity to heat.
The study will examine a series of mutations to find one that could be injected into the enzyme to make it heat stable.
The ultimate goal is to create a “recipe” for enzyme improvement to produce wheat that can thrive in warmer growing seasons – up to 10°C above the ideal range.
“If we are successful in demonstrating the enzyme’s effectiveness, the next step will be to employ gene editing to produce a non-GMO wheat with significantly improved yield,” said Dr Fabbri, noting the first bags of seed would possibly only be available for purchase in six to eight years.
According to Justin B. Siegl, UC-Davis assistant professor of chemistry, biochemistry & molecular medicine, the university’s scientists are excited to employ computational protein design and synthetic biology to tackle this important problem.
“The unique combination of technologies and discoveries brought together in this endeavor by TechAccel and UC Davis has the potential to build wheat varietals that we need in a world with an ever-changing climate,” he added.
Kansas City-based TechAccel is a tech and venture development organization focused on agriculture, animal health and food technology. The company builds relationships with universities to fund science advancement programs, like protein engineering, in an effort to try to move them toward commercialization.
This is not the first time that TechAccel has collaborated with UC-Davis.
In 2016, it participated in the UC-Davis Venture Catalyst STAIR-Plus program – an expansion of the Venture Catalyst Science Translation and Innovative Research (STAIR) grants.
The STAIR-Plus program offers additional support to STAIR grant recipients who have successfully achieved their projected commercialization milestones and are poised for commercial impact pending completion of specific targeted activities.