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Plots of different varieties of wheat in a field

About Breeding Research at WSU

Washington State University and the USDA-ARS have multiple plant breeding programs based in Washington. Breeding efforts focus on developing cultivars with high yield potential, excellent end-use quality, and resistance to biotic and abiotic stress. We focus on adaptation to the diverse climatic regions of Washington State as critical breeding goals that reduce risk to farmers and sustain crop production systems. Our research efforts focus on disease resistance, cold tolerance, drought and heat tolerance, end-use quality and nutritional density, and low input systems. The WSU and USDA breeding programs use doubled haploid breeding, marker-assisted selection, genomics, and high throughput phenotyping (phenomics) to run more productive breeding programs. Our programs have a long record of successful cultivar release and adoption by local farmers. The research and germplasm that we develop increases economic return to local farmers, supports the global grain trade of the Pacific Northwest, and provides food to the world.



Bob Brueggeman

Robert Brueggeman

The focus of my breeding program as the Robert A. Nilan Endowed Chair in Barley Research and Education is the development of malt, food, and feed varieties with high quality and yield that are widely adapted to diverse regions of Washington State. My basic research projects utilize molecular genetics, genomics and functional analysis tools to explore the mechanisms underlying biotic and abiotic stress resistances in barley. The genes and signaling pathways my team characterize are important to production in the dryland growing regions of the inland northwest. The knowledge and molecular tools developed can be translated to the field through targeted breeding efforts aided by genetic marker-based and genomic selection strategies.


Arron Carter

As the Orville A. Vogel Endowed Chair in Winter Wheat Breeding and Genetics, my program is focused on developing high-yielding, high-quality wheat cultivars with resistance/tolerance to biotic and abiotic stress, thereby mitigating grower risk and increasing sustainability of wheat production in Washington. My research focuses on genetic mapping of disease resistance, wheat end-use quality, and utilization of phenomics and high-throughput phenotyping to select for stress tolerance.


Weidong Chen

Weidong Chen, USDA-ARS

My research program focuses on diseases of pulse crops including pea, chickpea and lentil. I carry out applied and fundamental research on fungal diseases, ranging from disease diagnoses, epidemiology, disease management to genetics of plant-pathogen interactions to unravel mechanisms of pathogen virulence and host resistance. Current research efforts are on managing metalaxyl-resistant Pythium populations, and interactions of fungal (Ascochyta and Sclerotinia) effectors with host receptors in modulating disease development.


Kim Garland Campbell

Kim Garland Campbell, USDA-ARS

My research focuses on wheat breeding and genetics, development of germplasm and cultivars that mitigate grower risk due to abiotic and biotic stress factors. My main of emphasis include introgression of resistance to stripe rust of wheat, introgression of resistance to soil borne diseases especially strawbreaker foot rot, fusarium crown rot, and plant parasitic nematodes.


Steve Jones standing in a field

Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones runs the Bread Lab which works on breeding non- commodity wheat, barley and buckwheat for the coastal pacific northwest. Targets of the breeding program are flavor, nutritional density, yield and low input requirements of the crop.


Rebecca McGee, USDA-ARS

My research focuses on breeding and genetics of pulse crops – primarily spring-sown peas and lentils and autumn-sown peas, lentils and chickpeas. The main emphasis of my breeding programs is developing high yielding, adapted varieties with resistance to biotic stresses (soil borne pathogens, aphid-vectored viral diseases, foliar fungal pathogens) as well as the abiotic stresses of heat, cold and drought stress. End use quality characteristics, including Biofortification for mineral nutrients, is also addressed.


Phil Miklas standing in an irrigated field

Phil Miklas, USDA-ARS

My research area is in dry bean breeding and genetics with a regional, national, and international focus. Current efforts are focused on the identification, characterization, and deployment of novel disease resistance traits using traditional and marker-based approaches. Research is also directed toward characterization and development of dry beans that yield well with less inputs (less water and less fertilizer).


Kevin Murphy kneeling and looking at barley plots.

Kevin Murphy

My program, the Sustainable Seed Systems Lab, is focused on the breeding and agronomy of barley, quinoa, millet, spelt, and perennial wheat. We work closely with farmers on regional to international scales to develop high yielding, nutritionally dense seed crop varieties for a diversity of cropping systems.


Michael Neff

Michael Neff

Neff lab research focuses on understanding how seeds and seedlings respond to their external light environment and how these pathways interact with plant hormones such as brassinosteroids and auxins. The Neff lab uses a variety of plants for this research including the model systems Arabidopsis thaliana and Brachypodium distachyon. We use fundamental molecular genetics to understand how these pathways regulate plant growth and development. The Neff lab also uses molecular genetics and genomics to translate this knowledge to cereal crops such as wheat, and oilseed crops such as camelina and canola. The Neff lab also has a breeding program focusing on various turf grasses and the orphan crop teff.


Mike Pumphrey presenting at the Lind Field Day

Michael Pumphrey

As the Orville A. Vogel Endowed Chair in Spring Wheat Breeding and Genetics, my program is focused on the development of biotic and abiotic stress tolerant, high-yielding, and high-quality wheat varieties for diverse Washington production environments. Genetic dissection of disease resistance, grain quality, and abiotic stress tolerance traits are major research areas.


Camille Steber in front of a bookcase

Camille Steber, USDA-ARS

Camille Steber’s research examines the hormonal control of seed dormancy, germination, and plant responses to environmental stress. The goal of her wheat research program is to provide the breeding tools needed to reduce the risk of low Hagberg-Perten falling numbers, an indicator of starch degradation in wheat flour. Low falling numbers can result both from preharvest sprouting in the rain and induction of late maturity alpha-amylase (LMA) by temperature fluctuations during grain maturation. Her fundamental research program uses molecular genetic approaches to understand how the plant hormones GA and ABA control seed dormancy, germination, and the expression of the alpha-amylase enzyme that causes low falling numbers in wheat.


George Vandemark, USDA-ARS

My research focuses on developing improved cultivars of chickpeas that are adapted to the “Palouse” region of Washington and Idaho, and the Northern Plains regions of Montana and North Dakota. I am especially interested in coupling increased yield to enhancements in other traits including nutritional quality, resistance to soilborne diseases, and capacity to for form symbiotic associations with beneficial rhizobacteria.


Zhiwu Zhang

Zhiwu Zhang

As the endowment recipient of Washington Grain Commission for distinguished professorship in quantitative genetics, my major focus is to develop innovative, cutting-edge statistical methods and computing tools to advance genomic research toward the sustainable development of food production. I also teach a graduate level course, Statistical Genomics, mainly covering gene mapping through Genome Wide Association Studies and molecular breeding through genomic prediction