Letter from the Director
Washington State University honored its heritage in plant science excellence this year with the naming of its new plant biosciences building.
The Orville A. Vogel Plant Biosciences Building was dedicated in September in honor of the USDA Agriculture Research Service scientist and WSU faculty member who developed the first commercial semi-dwarf wheat varieties and complementary production systems in the Pacific Northwest. Vogel’s work with dwarf wheat varieties is widely recognized for laying the foundation for the Green Revolution in developing countries and set the standard for scientific excellence still in place in the WSU Agricultural Research Center today.
Scientists in the ARC again came out on top WSU-wide in terms of competitive grant and contract awards for Fiscal 2007, with nearly $24 million in new funding. And, again, the research covers a broad range of topics.
For example, researcher Diter von Wettstein won a four-year, $837,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to further his work on developing wheat varieties safe to eat for people with Celiac Disease, a genetic digestive and auto-immune disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.
Entomology Professors Walter (Steve) Shepherd and Richard Zack are joining forces with Pacific Northwest beekeepers to find out what is causing the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder that has wiped out thousands of hives throughout the region over the past several years.
Biofuels and bioproducts are emerging as a primary focus of ARC research. Professor Michael Kahn, a fellow in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and associate director of the ARC, received a three-year, $510,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue fundamental research that may someday reduce farmers’ reliance on an increasingly expensive farm input: industrially produced nitrogen fertilizer. WSU researcher Jon Johnson collaborated with private industry partners to win a $583,000 award to assess poplar wood as a feedstock for the production of ethanol. The university’s Center for Precision Agricultural Systems is studying the effects of biofuel crop production on soils thanks to a $395,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Professor and ARC researcher Francis J. Pierce heads that center.
Wheat varieties developed by WSU spring wheat breeder Kim Kidwell and winter wheat breeder Steve Jones top the list of those grown in the state this year. They include Louise, a soft white common spring wheat variety developed by Kidwell, and a soft white winter club variety named Bruehl, and a hard red variety named Bauermeister, both of which were bred by Jones. The wheat breeders also released four new varieties including Jones’ Xerpha, a soft-white common winter wheat, and Kidwell’s Farnum, Whit, and Kelse.
All of these projects are fundamentally based in excellent, relevant, cutting edge science. They tell a compelling story of partnership, innovation, and discovery. I appreciate you taking a moment from your busy schedule to review this report. Please feel free to contact me with your questions or comments. You can reach me at AgResearch@wsu.edu or 509.335.4563.