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Good News For Wheat Farmers Battling Salinity

March 15, 2012

A salt-tolerant variety of durum wheat that outperforms other varieties by 25 per cent on salty soils has been developed by CSIRO scientists using traditional crop breeding techniques.

Researchers have introduced a salt-tolerant gene into a commercial durum wheat which has produced spectacular results in field trials.

“Salinity already affects more than 20 per cent of the world´s agricultural soils and is an increasing threat to food production due to climate change,” CSIRO’s Dr Rana Munns said, a lead author on a paper just published in the prestigious journal, Nature Biotechnology.

In close collaboration with researchers at the University of Adelaide, Dr Munns and the team now 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 development of a salt-tolerant agricultural crop — from understanding the function of the salt-tolerant gene in the lab to demonstrating increased grain yields in the field.

“Under salty conditions, the new salt tolerant breeding line has outperformed normal commercial durum wheat, with increased yields of up to 25 per cent,” CSIRO researcher Dr Richard James, who led the successful field trials in 2009, said.

“Farmers now have additional options for maximising profits by growing a premium wheat in those more saline paddocks which they may typically avoid or reserve for less valuable crops.”

The results are now published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The lead authors are CSIRO Plant Industry scientists Dr Rana Munns and Dr Richard James and University of Adelaide student Bo Xu; the study´s senior author is Dr Matthew Gilliham from the University’s Waite Research Institute.

“The salt-tolerance comes from a gene that stops sodium getting to the leaves. This gene was introduced into modern wheat from an ancestral cousin, Triticum monococcum,” Dr Gilliham said.

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).

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