The CSIRO has developed a salt-tolerant variety of durum wheat that gives a 25% higher grain yield than other varieties on salty soils.
Using non-GM breeding techniques, CSIRO scientists introduced a salt-tolerance gene from modern-day wheat’s ancestral cousin, Triticum monococcum, into a commercial durum wheat.
“The salt-tolerant gene (known as TmHKT1;5-A) works by excluding sodium from the leaves,” said Dr Matthew Gilliham, senior author of the paper. “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.”
“This work is significant as salinity already affects more than 20% of the world’s agricultural soils and is an increasing threat to food production due to climate change,” said Dr Rana Munns, CSIRO scientist and lead author of the paper.
“Salinity is a particular issue in the prime wheat-growing areas of Australia, the world’s second-largest wheat exporter after the United States,” said Dr Gilliham. “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.”
Importantly, the wheat performs as well as other durum wheat under standard conditions. “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,” said Dr Richard James, who led the field trials.
“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.”
New varieties of the salt-tolerant wheat could be a commercial reality in the near future, said Dr Munns.