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Mar 13, 2012

Australia - Using Non-GM Molecular Methods Scientists Have Developed Salt Tolerant Wheat

Salt tolerant wheat field planted in Australia
Photo: CSIRO, Australia
On 11 March 2012, ScienceDaily reported on the publication of an article in Nature Biotechnology by Australian scientists on their discovery of salt-tolerant wheat.

This research is the first ever globally to "fully describe the improvement in salt tolerance of an agricultural crop -- from understanding the function of the salt-tolerant genes in the lab, to demonstrating increased grain yields in the field."

The project was led by Principal Investigator, Dr. Matthew Gilliham at the University of Adelaide's Waite Research Institute and it included researchers from the university's ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and CSIRO's Plant Industry.  

Using non-GM, precise gene-engineering laboratory techniques, the scientists inserted a salt-tolerant gene into commercial wheat durum.  Field tests demonstrated that this improved grain yields in salty soils by 25%.

According to Gilliham, this is significant because "Salinity is a particular issue in the prime wheat-growing areas of Australia, the world's second-largest wheat exporter after the United States. 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." Co-author and CSIRO expert Dr. Munns added, "Significant as salinity already affects over 20% of the world's agricultural soils, and salinity poses an increasing threat to food production due to climate change." 

Field trials were conducted at a variety of sites across Australia, including a commercial farm in northern New South Wales.

As the molecular techniques used to introduce the salt-tolerant gene introduced into the durum wheat was through a "non-GM" breeding processes, the wheat will not be labelled "GM."  

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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