Making barley less thirsty

Nieuws | de redactie
1 november 2012 | Scientists from Wageningen discovered a genetic factor that makes barley plants resistant to salt. This might put an area of 200 times the size of the Netherlands back in production.

Salinization of agricultural land is a global problem. An area two hundred times the size of?the Netherlands has already become too saline to use for food production. One?fifth of this represents some of the best irrigated farmlands in the world. And? climate change is aggravating the problem even further.

This is why researchers and plant breeders around the world are looking for opportunities to develop salt-tolerant crops for arable farming and?horticulture. Of course this mostly focuses on the major food crops such as?grains and potatoes.

Salt-resistant Barley

Barley breeders may soon develop varieties of barley, that are both less sensitive to?high concentrations of salt-ions in the plant and more resistant to osmotic?stress caused by saline soil. Nguyen Viet Long, has found?two sequence regions in the chromosomes of barley that contain the genes for?these two properties.

One of the two areas, on chromosome 4, affects how the plant deals with?increased concentrations of salt ions such as Na+ and Cl-. The plant uses a kind of ‘ion pump’ to prevent these elevated ion?concentrations from reaching the leaves. This allows the photosynthesis in the?leaves to continue as normal, permitting the plant to continue growing and?producing seeds.

Anti-osmosis stress gene

The second area identified by Nguyen, on chromosome 6, contains one or more genes that?make barley plants less sensitive to osmotic stress, which is the result of the?high concentration of ions in saline soil. In this situation, plants absorb?water less easily, which directly affects growth of the plants.

“Examining the genetic makeup and salt tolerance of so many different?types of barley enabled me to map the interesting areas quickly and accurately, “Nguyen explains. “I am therefore hopeful that we will have barley varieties?that can be grown on saline soils within around five years “

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