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International consortium honors UM’s Tiwari with leadership award

by | Jun 19, 2020

Vijay Tiwari’s award-winning research focuses on radiation hybrid mapping, a process that was used to validate the entire wheat genome assembly. (Photo courtesy University of Maryland)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — An international group of wheat scientists recently recognized a University of Maryland professor who is working to develop new varieties of the crop for Mid-Atlantic growers.
The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, a collection of 2,800 scientists across 70 countries, gave Vijay Tiwari, an assistant professor in the agricultural college’s plant science and landscape architecture program, its Leadership Award in January.
The award honors his leadership and expertise with radiation hybrid mapping, a process that was used to validate the entire wheat genome assembly, according to a university statement.
This work was integral in cracking the full genome sequence of wheat, published by the consortium in Science magazine. Tiwari not only elevated the university’s reputation in wheat genomics but revitalized the Maryland Small Grains Breeding and Genetics program.
By bringing together other experts across plant science to create a unique collaboration, the program is on the verge of rolling out new varieties of wheat to serve the state of Maryland and Mid-Atlantic region while helping combat global hunger.
“We are taking a big step forward for wheat breeding and genetics here, and people should know that Maryland has an active and exciting wheat and small grains program,“ Tiwari said. The consortium “took me by surprise with this award. Some of the previous leaders are world-renowned scientists with thousands and thousands of citations, so I’m honored.”
With the wheat genome sequenced, Tiwari is using this knowledge to advance his work with the Maryland Small Grains and Genetics program to develop new varieties for Maryland and beyond.
“What are the important genes, and how can we use those to get the agronomically important traits improved in wheat that can help us feed a growing population?” he said.
In order create new and improved varieties of wheat and other small grains of interest to Maryland growers, Tiwari has assembled a gene bank with more than 30,000 different small grain germplasms, harboring immense genetic diversity for wheat improvement.
He also created unique collaborations within the plant science program to bring together expertise in breeding, disease resistance, gene editing, and Extension education to systematically determine what traits are desirable, what genetic material from the gene bank is useful, and how this can be used to create new varieties for local farmers.
“We are in a unique position, and I always say that to our stakeholders,” says Tiwari. “In different places where I have been, they may be leaders in wheat breeding, but they do not have the type of collaborations that we have or expertise across all the aspects of small grains, like a dedicated person working on plant gene editing like Yiping Qi who is at the top of his field, Nidhi Rawat as one of the top-notch scientists working on wheat diseases, and Nicole Fiorellino who ties in Extension as an agronomist, so we have such a wonderful team. The team is further bolstered by accomplished plant physiologists, virologists, and scientists working on plant microbe interactions.”
The university has an active Small Grains Trial Center that helps the small grain breeding program perform field tests, Tiwari said.
“It’s not only what we can do in the lab, it is how we can apply it. For example, one of the major goals of our efforts is to test everything in the gene bank for resistance against wheat diseases of concern to Maryland farmers,” said Nidhi Rawat, an assistant professor and one of Tiwari’s collegeaus.
According to the team, this excitement is being felt all across the state for the revitalized Maryland Small Grains and Genetics program, with growers eagerly anticipating new varieties. The program is also working with the Maryland Crop Improvement Association and the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board to fulfill growers’ needs.

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