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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Published: 13 Jun 2018

Researchers at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) have identified a major gene controlling the tolerance of waterlogging in barley.

The gene could be the key to producing a new type of barley that can withstand the harsh conditions of a Tasmanian winter.

Associate Professor Meixue Zhou is leading the research, which was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation and an Australian Research Council linkage project with the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.

“Barley is Australia’s second biggest cereal crop, after wheat, with annual production averaging 8 million tonnes,” Associate Professor Zhou said.

“High rainfall during winter can significantly damage crops, so farmers in northern Tasmania tend to hold off sowing barley until spring, when conditions are drier.

“Farmers and plant breeders have consistently asked for waterlogging tolerance genes to be incorporated into the current commercial varieties.”

Having identified the gene, Associate Professor Zhou says the next step is to determine how the gene can be introduced into commercial varieties through backcrossing (instead of genetic modification) and marker assisted selection.

“We want to integrate a specific gene that encourages the development of roots with large air-filled spaces. These air-filled spaces (aerenchyma) help transport air from the above-ground shoots to supply the roots of waterlogged plants,” Associate Professor Zhou said.

“Our research could deliver a new line of barley to farmers with the same background of selected varieties, but with added waterlogging tolerance genes.”

The research has also screened 300 wheat germplasm for waterlogging tolerance.