Wild gene makes wheat crops salt-tolerant

Posted: March 13, 2012 at 4:56 am

Published: March. 12, 2012 at 7:15 PM

ADELAIDE, Australia, March 12 (UPI) -- Australian researchers say they've bred salt tolerance into a variety of wheat, resulting in a 25 percent increase in grain yield in salty soils.

Using 'non-GM,' crop breeding techniques, scientists have introduced a salt-tolerant gene into commercial durum wheat, with field tests confirming the benefits to yield figures, the University of Adelaide reported Sunday.

"This work is significant as salinity already affects over 20 percent of the world's agricultural soils, and salinity poses an increasing threat to food production due to climate change," Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization scientist Rana Munns said.

While domestication and breeding have narrowed the gene pool of modern wheat, leaving it susceptible to environmental stress, wild relatives of modern-day wheat remain a significant source of genes for a range of traits including salinity tolerance, the researchers said.

A salt-tolerant gene in an ancestral cousin of modern-day wheat, Triticum monococcum, has been introduced into modern commercial durham wheat, they said.

"Salinity is a particular issue in the prime wheat-growing areas of Australia, the world's second-largest wheat exporter after the United States," Adelaide researcher Matthew Gilliham said.

"With global population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050, and the demand for food expected to rise by 100 percent in this time, salt-tolerant crops will be an important tool to ensure future food security."

While durham what is used mainly for foods like pasta and couscous, the researchers said they've now crossed the salt-tolerance gene into bread wheat and are beginning field trials.

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Wild gene makes wheat crops salt-tolerant

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