Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - March 20, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta
20 THE 1ETHMIDGE HERALD Tuesday, March 20, 1973- Dr. D. W. A. Roberts examines frost-damaged wheat at the lethbndge research station The search for winter ivlteal: Scientists dig into 'cold' cereal Tlie findings of a. joint re- search project conducted by the Lethbridge Kesearch Sta- tion and the University of Leth- bridgo may contribute to the future development of a strain of winter wheat able io stand extremely cold tempera- tures. Dr. D. W. A, Roberts, plant physiologist at the research station, and D. E. B. Wagcnaar, IT of L biological sciences pro- fessor, for the past three years have conducted co-operative research to determine ways in which cold-hardy cereal crops differ from those sensitive to the cold. For the most part, tte study involves cultivating the wheat in nutrient solutions under varying controlled environmen- tal conditions, then examining the cells of growing points and full-grown leaves of such plants under an electron microscope. The work is minute and ex- acting: very few scientists in Canada are conduct! basic research into coid-hardiiKtis rf cereal crops. The research station XT of L study is based on work with cold-resistant wheats that Roberts began several years ago. As part of his own gen- eral interest in plant growth and reproduction, Dr. Wago- naar successfully applied for a grant from tho Canada department of agricul- ture. Dr. Wagcnaar and Dr. Rob- erts hope to conclude their work lafer this year. "The basis of our explains Dr. Roberts, "is to gain overall insight into the cold-hardy properties of cereal crops particularly wheat. Lethbridge is near the north- ern edge of the area where win- ter w h e a t can he grown com- mercial ly." Because of the unknown vari- able provided by the weather, tlffl scientists conduct their re- search in the atmosphere of tho lalwratory, where they can regulate temperatures. Dr. Roberts and Dr. Wagc- naar have conducted mast of their research with two varie- ties of wheat Kharkov, one of the most cold-hardy varie- ties, and Rescue, a spring wheat very sensitive to the cold. "Most wheat cannot survive tho comments Dr. Wagennar. must know what happens to the cells dur- ing frost, if there is to IK; any advance in developing cold- resistant strains of wisest." To obtain a. plant that has some properties of cold-resis- tance, the researchers begin with registered seed, of the sa me type a fa rmcr would plant, and grow it in the lab- oratory at temperatures just above freezing, so the wheat ad apts to cold ar.d develops traits of cold-res istancc. Then, cells of this wheat, and some of the control group a plant whJch grows only at warmer temperatures are compared for differences in cell develop- ment, "By comparison, says Dr. Wagcnaar, "we hope to tlctcr- mir.e some sort of correlation. We want to learn the struc- tural differences between those plants with a rdy traits, and those without." "The study is loo young yet for us lo say where it is going or to cite any definite comments Dr. Roberts. "The project is breaking new ground and we will have to come to some working principals before can generalize about the re- sults." However, the research has in- dicated that plants can adapt to cold, if raised in such an atmosphere, and that there are striking differences between plants raised in coMer-than- normnl temperatures and those not. The study show's that plants Dr. E. B. Wagenaar studies wheat cell formation under microscope. grown >n a cold environment have fewer water spaces in. tlKJir cells thus a lower wa- ter content in the plant as a whole but a higher sugar content. Such plants also have a greater number of chloroplasU and hence are a darker green than is usual. At lemiperatures close to freezing, the structure of chloroplasts of unh'artly plant varieties breaks down and does itot seem to have the capacity to adapt to cold. Whiter-hardy plants have no such problems, This unexplained biological sit- nation leads scientists io won- der if the key lo cold-hardi- ness is a matter of determin- ing where the "threshold" of adaptability to cold lies. Dr. Roberts and Dr. Wage- naar concede that the lack of water may be one of the plant's ways of adapting to the cold; it it lias greater water-content it would likely to freeze more readily. "If we had full understand- ing of plants' cold-hardiness, we better able to select from Iho progeny of a hybrid population a new type of plant with greater resistance to cold than either of its speculates Dr. Roberts, The two scientists admit such a process will be a num- ber of years in developing. A lengthy breeding process is ne- cessary in producing new va- rieties from hybrids before tlic offspring combine the desired complement of traits from their parents. It takes at least 10 or 12 years lo produce a new variety of Wheat. Thus, tho basic re- search work Dr. Roberts and Dr. Wagenaar arc now pursu- ing valuable as it have to be refined and further studied before it will have prac- tical benefits for plant breeders. A "new improved" strain of winter wheat with extreme cold-hardiness is still a long way off but getting closer each day.