Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) Professor, Meixue Zhou, has been awarded $4.4 million for research that will help Australian grain growers adapt to a changing climate and support future food security.
One project seeks to increase the ability of wheat to withstand hotter global temperatures predicted under future climate scenarios. Another project will examine the impacts of waterlogging on barley, canola and faba bean crops.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has invested in both projects to support the enduring profitability of growers.
Increasing intrinsic heat tolerance of wheat through improved genetics in the source-sink relationship
The project Increasing intrinsic heat tolerance of wheat through improved genetics in the source-sink relationship is valued at $1.9 million. It is a collaboration between TIA and Western Sydney University, Murdoch University, University of Haifa (UH), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), and Australian Grain Technologies (AGT). Professor Zhou is part of the leadership team for this project.
“Wheat is one of the most important crops in the world, however it is often affected by heat stress, making it susceptible to more frequent and severe heat stress predicted as a result of global climate change,” Professor Zhou said.
“In Australia, it is predicted that heat stress will cause wheat yield losses of 12 percent by 2050. The long-term outcome of this investment is to enable Australian growers to achieve at least 1 per cent higher yields under heat stress, which equates to a potential annual benefit of $62 million.”
This new research aims to increase wheat yields in Australia by improving the crop’s intrinsic heat tolerance and increasing the upper temperature limit at which wheat will optimally grow.
“Our research team will examine the performance of wheat lines under heat stress in greenhouse and field conditions to better understand the molecular and genetic basis of the source-sink relationship in regulating heat tolerance in wheat,” Professor Zhou said.
"The source is photosynthates produced from the vegetative portion of the plant through photosynthesis. Grain is the sink, where photosynthates and nutrients are mobilised in the plant.”
Understanding the impacts of waterlogging on barley, canola and faba bean
The project Understanding the impacts of waterlogging on barley, canola and faba bean is valued at $2.5 million. It is a collaboration between TIA and the Victorian Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action.
Professor Zhou said waterlogging impacts crop production in many parts of southern Australia, especially in the high rainfall zone of Victoria and Tasmania.
“Our research team will conduct experimental treatments using diverse cultivars of barley, canola and faba bean to examine the severity and duration of waterlogging-related anaerobic stress. Algorithms will be developed to predict the effects of waterlogging on the growth, development and yield of these crops, along with information about the benefit and cost of mitigation,” Professor Zhou said.
“By 2026, we will have identified practices to accelerate recovery from waterlogging, such as crop nitrogen management. We will also be able to recommend scenarios to avoid severe waterlogging and quantify the costs and benefits associated with these practices. This may include early sowing to deplete soil water, along with engineering and tillage solutions such as raised beds and drainage.”
The algorithms developed through this research will be incorporated into the Agricultural Production System sIMulator (APSIM), which is a comprehensive model used by researchers and underpins decision support tools used by growers.
GRDC manager of sustainable cropping systems south, Courtney Peirce, said this investment would increase awareness of both the direct and indirect impacts from waterlogging events and allow growers to make informed management decisions on how best to mitigate those impacts.
About Professor Meixue Zhou
Meixue Zhou is a Professor in Plant Breeding and Plant Stress Tolerance at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, based in Launceston.
Professor Zhou is internationally recognised for his research that focuses on the discovery of new mechanisms for plants to deal with different stresses (e.g., waterlogging, acidic soils and salinity), developing new breeding technologies, identifying key genes and germplasm for plant stress tolerance and integrating them to produce high-yielding commercial barley varieties.
In 2016, Professor Zhou and his team had a breakthrough with the discovery of a gene that controls the waterlogging tolerance of barley. This research, which also had investment from GRDC, has delivered vital new crop varieties for Australia.
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