Salt tolerant durum’s link to the past

This innovation could be useful for graingrowers in southern Kakheti and Kvemo Kartli, where salinity is an issue. It would reduce Georgia’s reliance on imported durum and pasta. It is an interesting example of how primitive strains of crops can be successfully crossed with commercial varieties for a strong commercial outcome.

After 15 years of research, Australian scientists have developed a line of durum wheat that yields 25 per cent more in soils affected by salinity than standard varieties.

Unlike other attempts at developing a salinity-tolerant wheat, the non-GM genetic modification means that wheat carrying the trait suffers no loss of yield when grown on normal soils.

Farmers can, at least theoretically, plant the salinity-tolerant durum across a paddock partially affected by salt, and get optimum results across a range of soil conditions.

Growers have a bit of a wait, though. It is expected to take about five years before durum lines carrying the salt-tolerance trait are available in commercial quantities.

Domestication and breeding has narrowed the gene pool of modern wheat, leaving it susceptible to environmental stress.

Durum wheat, used for making food like pasta and couscous, is particularly susceptible to soil salinity.

The Waite Institute’s Matthew Gilliham said the durum line developed by the research program is a result of introducing genes from an ancestral cousin of modern-day wheat, Triticum monococcum, into the modern durum variety Tammaroi.

The ancestral wheat provides a gene that enables the wheat plant to produce a protein able to remove sodium from the plant’s xylem – the plant’s version of veins.

This prevents sodium from reaching the leaves, where it interferes with photosynthesis, and keeps excess sodium in the root zone, where it is not toxic to the plant.

Researchers observed the 25 per cent yield increase over conventional varieties in soils with an average ECe (electrical conductivity, measured in a saturated paste of soil) of 14.8.

Should the modified variety be sown in a paddock with soils ranging from good to saline, in the range of 12-20 ECe, Dr Gilliham estimates that the paddock’s yields could range from 3-4 tonnes per hectare in the unaffected soils, and still deliver around 1 t/ha in the salinity-affected area.

Because the new gene can be bred into durum without genetic modification (GM) and the approval process this would entail, Dr Gillihall said the trait could be on the market as soon as the Australian Durum Wheat Improvement Program has incorporated it into current lines of durum.

via Salt tolerant durum’s link to the past – National Rural News – Grains and Cropping – Wheat – Queensland Country Life.

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