CORVALLIS - Oregon State University's internationally recognized wheat breeding program has doubled in size following a gift of wheat plant material from Monsanto Company.

The donation - in the form of wheat germplasm and seed stocks - represents an investment of several million dollars in breeding and development research, and seven years of wheat breeding efforts by HybriTech International, a subsidiary of Monsanto.

"This body of plant material is a complete wheat breeding program in itself," said Jim Peterson, OSU crop scientist and head of the OSU wheat breeding program. "These unique plant populations and genetic stocks will be of great value in our research program."

All of the seed is from conventionally bred genetic stocks and germplasm, Peterson noted. None of the stocks were derived through biotechnology or transgenic research efforts, he added.

The OSU wheat breeding program collaborated with HybriTech breeders in the Pacific Northwest through exchange of plant material from 1993 until late last year when Monsanto discontinued its hybrid wheat efforts. The donation from Monsanto includes all seed and germplasm stocks that originated from OSU and subsequently were improved by the breeding teams of HybriTech.

"I believe very little of the donated plant material will be a duplication of the germplasm already in OSU's program," Peterson said. "Every breeder has unique observation and selection skills, so we expect this material developed by Monsanto breeders will provide a rich source of variation to our program. HybriTech had several very talented breeders working with the company. Closure of the program was a reflection of the competitive seed market and high costs of producing hybrid seed, not of their breeding skills or of the genetic progress made to date."

Monsanto offered the stocks to OSU with only one restriction - that seed or germplasm from the donated materials not be provided to any commercial competitor of Monsanto. Stocks will be managed as a public resource and shared with other public breeding programs in the Pacific Northwest, including those at Washington State University, University of Idaho and U.S. Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service.

"Public wheat breeding programs are key to the advancement of U.S. wheat varieties, as they have developed approximately 98 percent of the varieties grown today," said Sally Metz, director of wheat technology for the Monsanto Company.

"We want to ensure that the potential advancements we made in developing this germplasm are not lost due to the discontinuation of hybrid wheat development," Metz added. "We are hopeful that access to this material will enable public breeding programs to introduce additional valuable varieties to U.S. wheat growers."

"I expect the stocks to be of great benefit to our breeding and genetics research, but more importantly, the donation will benefit wheat growers throughout the Pacific Northwest as new high-yielding varieties are developed and released from the germplasm," said Peterson. "We in the OSU breeding program are very appreciative that Monsanto would consider donating the seed stocks to OSU, rather than lose this valuable germplasm base."

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Jim Peterson, 541-737-3728