Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Crop Sciences

Fall 2017

Plant for the future

Somewhere in the dryland wilds of eastern Washington, Michael Neff and his wife stop the car.

“I’ve always wanted to hike these dunes,” he says to her. “I could not believe the grasses that were stabilizing those dunes!” Neff says later. He refuses to identify where, exactly, the dunes in question are located. “It’s those little pockets of diversity that we need to identify and preserve,” he explains, almost—but not quite—apologetic.

Trained as a botanist and now a professor of molecular biology at Washington State University, Neff expands on why this is important: “If we’re going to be resilient in the face of climate … » More …

NASA plant habitat
Summer 2017

Space farming

Surviving the challenges of deep space exploration could rely as much on botany as astrophysics.

NASA sees plants not only as potential food sources aboard future spacecraft but as natural oxygen producers. The space agency is preparing for its first in-depth study of how growth and development of plants is affected by gravity, or more specifically the lack of it.

“The overall significance is what it could mean for space exploration,” says Norman G. Lewis, a Regents professor at Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and principal investigator for the NASA-funded study. “Whether it’s colonizing planets, establishing a station, … » More …

Green for all seasons
Spring 2016

Green for all seasons

The quirks of Pullman weather can make gardening tough. It was only a few years ago that it snowed in June. But in the greenhouses scattered around campus, researchers and students can keep growing and studying plants in adverse weather. Even visitors to campus can enjoy vegetables, holiday poinsettias, and flowers long before they’ll thrive on the Palouse.

The latest addition to the greenhouses on campus, a two-story building that resembles a glass apartment complex with glowing sodium lights, sits behind the Lewis Alumni Centre. The research facility allows scientists to raise up to three generations of wheat, barley, and other grains every year, says … » More …

Ancient grains freekeh, amaranth, barley, quinoa, bulgur, millet, and farro. Courtesy Pioneer Press
Winter 2015

Ancients among us

Safeguarding our future

The arid soil on the mile-high Hopi Mesa trickles through clenched fingers like sand. If you visit this isolated corner of northeastern Arizona, you might find it hard to believe it is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the Americas.

For more than 2,000 years, the Hopi and their ancestors have carved a living out of the rough terrain. They survived drought, famine, war, and a fluctuating climate that drove many of their ancient southwestern neighbors elsewhere in search of more fertile lands.

One key to the Hopi’s longevity is a variety of drought-tolerant corn they have adapted over the … » More …

Spring 2014

What about buckwheat?

Oh, no, no, no,” says Sonoko Sakai as she jets across the test kitchen at the WSU Mount Vernon Research Station to school a student on the proper technique of draining a freshly cooked hand-cut soba noodle.

“Don’t stir it. You have to pat it like this,” she says as she firmly whacks the bottom of the strainer.

Sakai, a former film industry executive, changed course dramatically a few years ago and left LA for Japan to learn the art of making soba, a traditional Japanese noodle made primarily of buckwheat.

She found her way to soba master Takashi Hosokawa and now travels the country … » More …

Craig Morris
Winter 2013

Of mice, men, and wheat

Although varieties abound, wheat can be more simply considered as either hard or soft, hardness being a measure of the kernel’s resistance to crushing.

 

All wheat originally was soft-kerneled. And there is, so far as we know, no evolutionary advantage to either the hard or the soft trait.

But clearly, somewhere along the line, that section of genetic material that determines the hardness of the kernel underwent a random mutation. Specifically, the Puroindoline a or Puroindoline b genes, which have long been a focus of Craig Morris’s research.

In order to understand the hard/soft divide, Morris, a plant physiologist, suggests that we consider the … » More …

Winter 2013

Tiny seed, big prospects

As small, relatively obscure seeds go, quinoa has a lot riding on it.

It measures about 3 millimeters across, and its worldwide production is about 1/20,000th of wheat, but foodies, researchers, farmers, grocers, and food policy experts can’t get enough of it. Packed with protein, adaptable, and hardy, it’s an emerging option in the quest to improve farm incomes while feeding a growing planet with impoverished soils and warming temperatures. The United Nations General Assembly has even given it its own year: 2013, the “International Year of Quinoa.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last February said it is “truly a food for the Millennium Development Goals,” … » More …