Salty soils are an increasing problem in agriculture. To ensure future food security it is vital that we improve agricultural yield from these unpromising soils. Wheat for bread is somewhat tolerant to salty conditions but durum wheat, used in the production of pasta and other foods, is far less so. A collaborative team, mainly from CSIRO Plant Industry and the Waite Institute at the University of Adelaide, has identified a gene from an ancestral relative of modern wheat and bred this gene into durum wheat. Microscopy in the AMMRF at the University of Adelaide by postgraduate student Bo Xu, showed that the protein encoded by this gene sits in the cell membrane of the roots, reducing the amount of salt reaching the leaves. The knock-on effect is that the plants carrying the gene have a 25% increase in grain yield on salty soils when compared to normal durum wheat.
The work was published recently in Nature Biotechnology and offers great promise for improved food yields under challenging environmental conditions. It also serves to highlight the value of biodiversity as a versatile toolbox for managing our response to climate change.