Talking Heat Resilience in Wheat & Rice with Argelia Lorence

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Episode Transcription:

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: This episode of the WSU Wheat Beat podcast was recorded on March 22nd, 2019, during the WSU Plant Science Symposium. The theme of the symposium was foundations for the future, embracing new agricultural technologies. As part of the program, five innovative researchers from across the U.S. and the world agreed to speak about their research. All five researchers also agreed to sit down with me for a few minutes to explain their work, and how it may relate to wheat growers in Eastern Washington.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Welcome to the first episode of our special series from the 2019 WSU Plant Science Symposium. My guest today is Dr. Argelia Lorence. Argelia is the James and Wanda Lee Vaughn Endowed Professor at Arkansas State University. The most significant contribution Dr. Lorence has made to plant sciences has been the discovery of a novel, biosynthetic pathway for vitamin C. Her laboratory uses Arabidopsis to better understand the role of various subcellular pools of vitamin c in plant physiology. In addition to Arabidopsis, her current models of study include rice, soybean, and maize. She is co-principle investigator of the wheat and rice center for heat resilience, which is an NSF funded project focused on finding novel genes, involved in conferring rice and wheat tolerance to high night temperatures. One of the key factors that limits the yields of these two most important crops in the world for food security. Hello, Argelia.

Argelia Lorence: Hello, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So, what is the wheat and rice center for heat resilience? What does it do?

Argelia Lorence: Well, we are project funded by the National Science Foundation, in particular by the EPSCoR Track-2 program. And in this program, the rules of the game are you need to partner with other universities in the United States that are in what is called an EPSCoR state. EPSCoR states are the ones that comparatively speaking, get less funding than others. Let’s say the bottom half of the US states. So, Nebraska is part of that group, Kansas is as well, and Arkansas is. So, this project is a partnership between the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Kansas State University; Arkansas State University; and Virginia Tech. And together, we’re working on finding novel ways, novel mechanisms, novel genes to confer rice and wheat tolerance to high night temperature stress. Why this stress? It’s because this is the stress that is affecting both the yield, that’s quantity, and quality of rice and wheat.

Drew Lyon: Okay, and nighttime heat versus just heat in general, daytime heat.

Argelia Lorence: Yes, so there have been previous studies. You know, in science we always build on someone else’s work, right?. I mean, we stand on the, basically on the shoulders of giants. So, previous studies have shown that if you stress either rice or wheat during the day, versus if you stress them with heat during the night, the one that causes the most penalty is the night temperature. In rice, there are these fabulous statistics: for everyone one-degree Celsius increase in average night temperature, there is a 10% penalty in yield. Imagine that. So, the Currant Climate Change Center has predicted a 3.7 increase in Celsius. So that is 40% penalty in yield.

Drew Lyon: And, correct if I’m wrong about this, but I think one of the things also predicted is that it’ll be, maybe not your daytime temperatures getting that much hotter, but that your nighttime temperatures won’t get as low as they normally do.

Argelia Lorence: Yes. Yes.

Drew Lyon: So that’s even a bigger challenge if this nighttime heat that’s causing us problems.

Argelia Lorence: Absolutely. So, in this project, we want to get ahead of the curve and before those changes happen, we want to identify already what natural variance in both rice and wheat have these tolerance, right? And for that, we are exploring what is called diversity panels. They are, it’s a collection basically of different cultivars that come from all over different, at least the one in rice, many, many different regions of the world. Because we’re trying to; rice is divided into five major subgroups, so in this panel that we’re using, we have representatives of all five sources. And for the wheat part of the project, we are exploring winter wheat which is grown in Kansas mostly, right? Because again, this is a partnership with that state, which is the main wheat producer in the US. So, I guess, it’s important to say the reason why this partnership makes a lot of sense is because Kansas is the main producer of wheat in the U.S., Arkansas is the main producer of rice in the U.S., and we’re partnering, and Nebraska brings great things onto the table because they have this beautiful phenotyping facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. So, they are the ones analyzing in a lot of detail all these 400 different types of rice, and all these 400 different types of wheat. And they have also a lot of expertise, so the leader of the overall project is Dr. Harkamal Walia. He’s at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. And he has put a great team together there in Nebraska where he has, well, he’s crop physiologist, but there are also computational scientists at these stations. Systems biology experts, experts in analyzing image analysis. So, basically, there is a lot of expertise being integrated into the project. It’s one of the most exciting things. I have these super, super interesting collaborators that are experts in many different things, so collectively, we make the project better.

Drew Lyon: Okay, yeah, that sounds like a very broad group. What does Virginia Tech bring to the program?

Argelia Lorence: Yes, so let me tell you how Virginia Tech got engaged. So, Virginia Tech hired Dr. Gota Morota. He is an outstanding quantitative geneticist. He used to work at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but he got hired by Virginia Tech, so. So, we are very lucky that instead of losing him, we get to keep him involved in the project, although physically, now located at Virginia Tech.

Drew Lyon: So, it sounds like this project should generate a lot of new information. Scientists like to publish in refereed journal articles, that’s kind of our coin of the realm so to speak. But, how else are you going to find the findings from this project both to breeders who might use it, and farmers who might want to use it in their operations?

Argelia Lorence: Well, thank you for asking me that question, it’s an excellent one. So, we are taking really all possible avenues to communicate our findings. We have a project website, we have a project Facebook account, we have a project Twitter account, and then we participate in what is called Farmer’s Days, right? So, there is a Rice Day. So, something that I should add is in Arkansas, we are doing all of the field work, in an experimental station that is owned by a company called Rice Tech. They are the main producers of hybrid rice seed in the U.S. And they have this excellent experimental station, very close to the university where I work. So, instead of just doing the work in the university farm, we are doing the experiments in a real state-of-the-art farm.

Drew Lyon: That’s a nice thing to have.

Argelia Lorence: Yes. So, Rice Tech, for example, they have a field day, it’s like a showcase day, and they’re going to allow us to be part of that where they usually bring, like, several hundred of rice farmers, right? So, it’s going to be on August 6th this year, so August 6th, we’re already scheduled to be on the field day for Rice Tech and show to several hundred farmers in Arkansas what we’re all about. So, we are also the project, well, in Arkansas rice is a $6 billion industry. So, it’s the main breadwinner there. So, there is a lot of interest from the rice farmers. I think because of that, recently both radio, the local radio station, the local newspapers, called the Jonesboro Sun, and also the local TV station have come, have approached us, interviews, to, it’s like, what are you guys about? What is all of this hype about rice? What exactly are you doing in rice? Because it’s important, it’s the livelihood of many, many people.

Drew Lyon: So, you mentioned a webpage, could you tell us what the URL for that webpage is?

Argelia Lorence: Absolutely. So, we call ourselves the Wheat and Rice Center for Heat Resilience. So, if you just use the first letter of one of those, right: WRCHR; Richer, right? So, that’s our website. And we have a Facebook page, we’re very easy to find, and also a Twitter page.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, you want to give us that URL one more time?

Argelia Lorence: Yes.

Drew Lyon: Alright. So, if somebody is interested in that, they can go look at that.

Argelia Lorence: Yes.

Drew Lyon: So, we don’t grow, to my knowledge, any rice in Washington, but we grow a whole lot of wheat. So, what do you see as, how what you’re doing will have an impact on our wheat farmers here in the state of Washington?

Argelia Lorence: Yes, so I can, another great question. As I said, we’re funded by the National Science Foundation, right? So, this is your tax dollars and my tax dollars being used. So, of course, we’re going to generate information, and then disseminate the information widely so that breeding programs all over the U.S. that involve either wheat or rice can benefit from this work, right?

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Argelia Lorence: And thinking as citizens of the world, I mean, one of the things you observe in the composition of our team is we are from all over, right? I’m from Mexico, Dr. Walia is from India, Dr. Jagadish is from India, Dr. Morota is from Japan, Dr. Arlene Adviento-Borbe, one of the person’s really leading all of the field work in Arkansas, is from the Philippines. So, we are really from all over the place. Of course, we have also U.S. faculty involved. So, we want this to benefit as many people as possible, right? So, I mean, we want ultimately for food security units think global, right? I mean, this is the one planet we all share, and these are the two main crops or two of the main crops.

Drew Lyon: I was just going to say, these are two very important crops.

Argelia Lorence: These are two very important crops, so we want to benefit as many people as possible with the project. So, I see, again, we are going to make every attempt in disseminating the information as widely as possible, and of course, it impacts the wheat farmers in Washington, yes.

Drew Lyon: Good. So, I think this is another example of taking more basic science and translating into applied fields, and we should see the fruits of this down the road, which are going to be important to us as our world gets warmer and carbon-dioxide levels go up.

Argelia Lorence: Yes.

Drew Lyon: I appreciate you taking some time to visit with us, today.

Argelia Lorence: This is fantastic. I should mention, we are funded for four years, and this is our second year.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Argelia Lorence: So, the best is still to come.

Drew Lyon: Alright, excellent. Well, we’ll look forward to seeing more things coming out of the program. Thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it.

Argelia Lorence: Thank you so much.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon That’s ( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

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