Australian scientists introduce salt-tolerant, high-yield wheat

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salt tolerant wheat
Photo - Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters

Scientists in Australia have produced a high-yielding variety of wheat plant which is tolerant to soil with high salt levels, Reuters reported. According to the study published in journal ‘Nature Biotechnology’, the Australian researchers said there is hope of a new strain that will prevent shortage of food in semi–arid and arid areas with high salinity in soil.

Matthew Gilliham, lead researcher of the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, said: “This is first time that a genetic variation that was lost in plants through domestication has been reclaimed from a wild relative and put back into the plant,”

A gene believed to be vital for holding salt content in plants got isolated more than 10 years ago from an ancient wheat variety. Gilliham said the gene forms a protein which it helps block salt from travelling up the plant and is that is present in the roots of wheat.

Too much salt is deadly for plants as it lowers yields and eventually kills them.

“When plants grow in salty conditions, the enzymes in the plants don’t work very well anymore,” Gilliham said. “We crossed the gene into modern, commercially-grown wheat. It confers salinity tolerance by withdrawing the salts from the xylem, retaining them in the roots and stopping them getting up the shoots where the salt damages the plant and stops it from photosynthesizing,” he explained.

The Australian researchers have grown the new, improved wheat variety in soil containing high salt content and found that it yields up to 25% more than strains without the ancient gene.

“People will see how it works … maybe in 5 years it will benefit other varieties of wheat,” Gilliham said.

Scientists hope the newly modified wheat would be highly beneficial to farmers in Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa, US and Russia.

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