Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Unlock Key to Drought-Resistant Wheat with Longer Roots

March 8, 2023

An international group of scientists found that the right number of copies of a specific group of genes can stimulate longer root growth, enabling wheat plants to pull water from deeper supplies, with the resulting plants producing more biomass and higher grain yield.

The study published in the journal Nature Communications provides novel tools to modify wheat root architecture to help the plants withstand low water conditions, said Gilad Gabay, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and the paper's first author. Little has been known about the genes affecting the root structure of wheat. The discovery of the OPRIII gene family and that different copies of these genes affect root length is a significant step, said Distinguished Professor Jorge Dubcovsky, the project leader in the lab where Gabay works.

To get longer roots, the researchers used CRISPR gene editing technology to eliminate some OPRIII genes duplicated in wheat lines with shorter roots. Increasing copies of these genes caused shorter and more branched roots, but inserting a rye chromosome resulted in decreased OPRIII wheat genes and caused longer roots. Fine-tuning the right combination of genes means researchers can search for wheat varieties with natural variations and breed them for release to growers planting in low-water environments.

For more details, read the article in the University of California Davis News & Events.

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