Using 'non-GM' crop breeding techniques, scientists from CSIRO Plant Industry have introduced a salt-tolerant gene into a commercial durum wheat, with spectacular results shown in field tests. Researchers at the University of Adelaide's Waite Research Institute have led the effort to understand how the gene delivers salinity tolerance to the plants.
The research is the first of its kind in the world to fully describe the improvement in salt tolerance of an agricultural crop - from understanding the function of the salt-tolerant genes in the lab, to demonstrating increased grain yields in the field.
The results are published today in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The paper's senior author is Dr Matthew Gilliham from the University's Waite Research Institute and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. Lead authors are CSIRO Plant Industry scientists Dr Rana Munns and Dr Richard James and University of Adelaide student Bo Xu.
"This work is significant as salinity already affects over 20% of the world's agricultural soils, and salinity poses an increasing threat to food production due to climate change," Dr Munns says.
Dr Gilliham says: "Salinity is a particular issue in the prime wheat-growing areas of Australia, the world's second-largest wheat exporter after the United States. With global population estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, and the demand for food expected to rise by 100% in this time, salt-tolerant crops will be an important tool to ensure future food security."
Domestication and breeding has narrowed the gene pool of modern wheat, leaving it susceptible to environmental stress. Durum wheat, used for making such food products as pasta and couscous, is particularly susceptible to soil salinity.
However, the authors of this study realised that wild relatives of modern-day wheat remain a significant source of genes for a range of traits, including salinity tolerance. They discovered the new salt-tolerant gene in an ancestral cousin of modern-day wheat, Triticum monococcum.
"Salty soils are a major problem because if sodium starts to build up in the leaves it will affect important processes such as photosynthesis, which is critical to the plant's success," Dr Gilliham says.
"The salt-tolerant gene (known as TmHKT1;5-A) works by excluding sodium from the leaves. It produces a protein that removes the sodium from the cells lining the xylem, which are the 'pipes' plants use to move water from their roots to their leaves," he says.
Dr James, who led the field trials, says: "While most studies only look at performance under controlled conditions in a laboratory or greenhouse, this is the first study to confirm that the salt-tolerant gene increases yields on a farm with saline soils.
Field trials were conducted at a variety of sites across Australia, including a commercial farm in northern New South Wales.
"Importantly, there was no yield penalty with this gene," Dr James says.
"Under standard conditions, the wheat containing the salt-tolerance gene performed the same in the field as durum that did not have the gene. But under salty conditions, it outperformed its durum wheat parent, with increased yields of up to 25%.
"This is very important for farmers, because it means they would only need to plant one type of seed in a paddock that may have some salty sections," Dr James says.
"The salt-tolerant wheat will now be used by the Australian Durum Wheat Improvement Program (ADWIP) to assess its impact by incorporating this into recently developed varieties as a breeding line."
Dr Munns says new varieties of salt-tolerant durum wheat could be a commercial reality in the near future.
"Although we have used molecular techniques to characterise and understand the salt-tolerant gene, the gene was introduced into the durum wheat through 'non-GM' breeding processes. This means we have produced a novel durum wheat that is not classified as transgenic, or 'GM', and can therefore be planted without restriction," she says.
The researchers are also taking their work a step further and have now crossed the salt-tolerance gene into bread wheat. This is currently being assessed under field conditions.
This research is a collaborative project between CSIRO, NSW Department of Primary Industries, University of Adelaide, the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. It is supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and Australian Research Council (ARC).
Dr. Matthew Gilliham | EurekAlert!
Mass spectrometry sheds new light on thallium poisoning cold case
14.12.2018 | University of Maryland
Protein involved in nematode stress response identified
14.12.2018 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy