Biotech Updates

Australian Researchers Working to Develop Drought-Tolerant Wheat

November 6, 2009

An international team of researchers, led by Gonzalo Estavillo and Barry Pogson at the Australian National University, has pinpointed a gene in Arabidopsis that allow plants to survive drought. Estavillo and colleagues identified the gene, called SAL1, when they were looking at different mutant varieties of Arabidopsis that had unusual responses to high light. Mutations in SAL1 enable plants to survive longer without added water. The researchers said that they are now in the process of introducing the mutant characteristics into the elite wheat cultivars currently used in agriculture industry.

"The ultimate aim of the project is to develop wheat lines with improved drought tolerance and water use," explained Dr Estavillo. "The next step will be to identify wheat mutant plants lacking SAL1 genes identified by molecular biology procedures. We expect that these mutants should remain green, turgid and photosynthetically active, producing more leaves, flowers and seeds during mild to moderate water deficit." Estavillo noted that because the basis of the mutation is a missing gene it would be possible to create drought tolerant wheat plants without resorting to transgenic methods.

Drought tolerant wheat plants may prove to be important in the future. Climate models predict that a vast wheat growing areas of southern Australia will become drastically drier over the next 50 years.

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