Salty soil may no longer come in the way of planting wheat but could actually improve its yield by 25 percent, a study reveals.
Using ‘non-GM’ crop breeding techniques, scientists from the CSIRO Plant Industry have introduced a salt-tolerant gene into a commercial durum wheat, with spectacular results in field tests.
The salt-tolerant gene works by excluding sodium from the leaves. It produces a protein that removes the sodium from the cells lining the xylem, which are the ‘pipes’ plants use to move water from their roots to their leaves, said the research paper.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Research Institute have led the effort to understand how the gene delivers salinity tolerance to the plants, the journal Nature Biotechnology reported.
The research is the first of its kind in the world 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, according to a university statement.
CSIRO scientists Rana Munns, Matthew Gilliham Richard James and University of Adelaide student Bo Xu, co-authored the study.
“This work is significant as salinity already affects over 20 percent of the world’s agricultural soils, and salinity poses an increasing threat to food production due to climate change,” Munns said.
Gilliham said: “With global population estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, and the demand for food expected to rise by 100 percent in this time, salt-tolerant crops will be an important tool to ensure future food security.”