Breakthrough on salt-tolerant wheat from CSIRO in Australia

A team of Australian scientists…has bred salt tolerance into a variety of durum wheat that shows improved grain yield by 25% on salty soils.

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…

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…”

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…

Field trials were conducted at a variety of sites across Australia, including a commercial farm in northern New South Wales…

“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…

“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.

First, this is an important achievement. Increased salt in soil is as much the result from crappy irrigation techniques as anything else – including climate change. The problem is on the increase everywhere in the world where flooding irrigation is the accepted practice.

Second, the manipulation of breeding techniques to qualify as non-genetically-modified is hilarious. Luddite fears are absurd, anyway. But, playing games with the approach to gene-splicing won’t mean anything except to lawmakers – because the paranoid types who fear their sandwich eating their face will still be just as paranoid. They will stamp their feet and do their best to screw farmers trying to produce food in less than perfect conditions around the world — to defend the purity of their bodily fluids.

One thought on “Breakthrough on salt-tolerant wheat from CSIRO in Australia

  1. Mark says:

    Agreed. Genetic modification can be misleading. Its the patenting and the deliberate propagation of proprietary lifeforms that gets my (GM free) goat. Immoral corporations like Monsanto are more of a threat than the technology.

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