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U of A researchers aim to create new strain of wheat with resistance to wheat midge

July 5, 2022  By University of Alberta

Agricultural scientists in Western Canada are teaming up to give wheat a boost of built-in resistance to a destructive pest.

“Wheat midge is the number one insect pest threatening wheat crops across Western Canada,” says James Harynuk, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science.

Harynuk notes that in an average year, wheat midge can cause about $60 million in damage to wheat crops. That number stretches to $300 million or more during bad seasons, with increasing wheat prices potentially raising that total even more.


Wheat midge damages wheat by laying their eggs in the kernels to hatch their larvae. Currently, there’s only one reliable genetic defense mechanism to protect wheat crops from this pest.

“It’s the only tool we have available to us. We’re worried the midge might evolve resistance to it,” says Boyd Mori, a professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

Female wheat midge are deterred from particular strains of wheat because of the odour the wheat emits, Mori explains. “We’re looking to identify what those compounds are that the wheat is releasing to prevent wheat midge from laying eggs.”

This information can then be used to create new strains of wheat with protection against the destructive pest.

“There’s something the plant is releasing that gets into the air and protects all the other plants in a certain radius,” explains Harynuk. That means the compounds that deter wheat midge can also offer protection to the plants around them.

“This is the sort of thing that could be a really big game changer for the wheat industry and this pest,” says Harynuk.

The project was made possible from funding administered by Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR) and from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year $3-billion investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments. | READ MORE


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