1/3/14 LCS hosts Class Field Trip in Lafayette

On December 18th, 2013, the Lafayette Research Station hosted 43 students from 2 fifth grade classes at Faith Christian School for an afternoon of hands-on learning. The field trip started off by LCS Wheat Breeder Don Obert showing the students an easy visual difference in some wheat varieties: the awned and awnless heads of a wheat stalk.

Don Obert explained that when examined closely, there are many traits that are distinct to specific wheat varieties. By using phenotypic traits, a person is able to distinguish between plants that may appear to be similar, but are actually quite different.

Don drew the students’ attention to a smaller identifying trait of the grass family: the auricles. Auricles are the clasping appendages or the claw-like projections that are located at the junction of a leaf sheath and the leaf blade. Samples of oat, barley and wheat were passed around for the students to identify the differences in the auricle, or commonly called collar, of each type of grass.

Don explained how he uses known genes to breed for or against specific traits in wheat. The students were given charts of fifteen varieties of wheat. Each variety had markers for two genes that help to control plant height, two genes that show resistance to the disease FHB, and the genes for the color of the kernel. The fifth graders were then asked to solve several problems using the marker data.

Andrew Katz, a LCS intern, assisted in the lesson on genetics by helping students determine whether a cross could be made that would result in a plant of medium height with both FHB resistant genes and have white kernels.

Then it was off to the greenhouse to put this new knowledge into action! The students were split into four groups. Don, his wife Jacque, and Research Assistants, Jeremiah Menefee and Tracy Beall, each led a group to give the students more individual attention and hands-on experience. Don had quite a focused group of kids.

Jacque Obert guided students through properly removing the anthers, which bear the pollen, from the wheat heads of the plant. This process is called emasculation.

There is no better way to learn than by doing it yourself! Research Assistants Jeremiah Menefee and Tracy Beall help the group remove the tiny anthers from around each stigma. The kids showed remarkable patience and skill for such delicate work!

Before it was time to go back to school, the students enjoyed fruit juice and doughnuts as a reward for their hard work as wheat breeders for the afternoon.

One of the fifth graders, Ben Obert, gave Breeder Don a big hug as a thank you. After all, Don is his dad! The Lafayette Research Station team enjoyed hosting the field trip for the class to give them a little bit of experience in what a wheat breeder does in a days’ work.