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Salt water wheat from wild barley.

A cereal crop that can grow profitably on Australia's salt-affected land? What are the chances? They are looking better now that a tough wild barley has something to do with it.

Funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Dr Tim Colmer's team from the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity is trying to develop a salt- and waterlogging-tolerant cereal that would enable Farmers to extend cropping onto soils with salinity levels too high for any existing cereal breeds.

The key to the research is a plant that farmers dread because it is often the first sign of salinity: Hordeum marinum, commonly known as 'sea barley grass'. But the researchers think the very factors that allow this species to thrive on saline land will help develop salt tolerance in wheat.

'We are screening the "wild" Hordeum germplasm (the reproductive genetic material) to determine which species are potential gene donors for salt- and water logging tolerance, and which of these can be cross-bred with bread wheat', said Dr Colmer. 'Waterlogging tolerance is important since salt affected areas are frequently waterlogged in southern Australia.

'Our work has shown that sea barley grass is very salt tolerant, capable of growing at levels approaching seawater. It also possesses mechanisms for root aeration that contribute to waterlogging tolerance. The challenge for us is to create a successful hybrid of Hordeum marinum with wheat that maintains these key traits.'

Dr Colmer points out, however, that even with these advances, cropping is unlikely to be viable on severely salt-affected land, where fodders such as saltbush and salt-tolerant grasses will remain the most appropriate to grow.

More information:

CRC for Plant based Management Dryland Salinity Contact: Bruce Munday, 0417 895 249.
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Title Annotation:Research
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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