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Benefits to flow from water efficient wheat research

Released on

Released on:
Wednesday, 13. June 2018 - 11:00

Pre-breeding wheat trials have identified germplasm that performs well in dry conditions, which will help plant geneticists to develop new, more robust varieties suitable to Western Australian conditions.

The trials are part of a Grains Flagship project by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to identify genetic markers in the plant material linked to genes responsible for plant emergence and high grain fill rates under limited soil water availability.

The department sourced germplasm from the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s CAIGE project, including breeding lines from arid environments in the Middle East, the sub-continent, North Africa and South West Asia.

The trials at the department’s Merredin Research Facility in April and May 2017 benchmarked the 170 breeding lines against more than 60 Australian wheat varieties.

Senior research officer Michael Francki said the trials showed promising results for early plant emergence when sown in dry light soils and irrigated once in April to simulate a light rainfall event under strongly drying conditions.

“Initial results showed eight lines had 90 to 100 per cent emergence under limited moisture conditions in two trials that included Australian varieties and adapted lines from Pakistan,” Dr Francki said.

“The entire 230 lines are being evaluated again this year in field trials at Merredin, as well as further glasshouse trials.”

Dr Francki said there were also encouraging trial results from lines that showed good grain fill rates.

“We have identified a number of breeding lines in germplasm from The International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) that had high rates of grain fill,” he said.

“The lines from ICARDA could be an excellent source of genetics to breed future Australian varieties that maintain rate of grain fill in dry finishes to the growing season, without detrimental effects to grain quality characteristics.

“Trials to assess the rate of grain fill will be repeated at Merredin this year, to verify the results and reinforce the findings from the 2017 results.”

The project will also examine whether rate of grain fill has any adverse effects associated with grain quality, such as milling yield, protein, water absorption and grain size, in the search to provide the commercial sector with high-quality genetic markers and germplasm.

Dr Francki said it appeared multiple genes were responsible for the traits associated with early emergence and the rate of grain fill.

“We are in the process of identifying DNA markers linked to the genes that control emergence and the rate of grain fill under limited water so breeding companies can track and select genes for the most desirable traits,” he said.

It generally takes seven to 10 years for the commercial sector to develop new wheat varieties.

For more information about this and other Boosting Grains Research and Development Flagship Projects click here.

Man crouched in green wheat crop
DPIRD research officer Grant Stainer, who has been working with colleagues Dr Bob French and Dr Michael Francki (not pictured) on a project to evaluate plant emergence and rate of grain fill under limited water in 2018 trials at the department’s Merredin Research Facility.

Man crouched in trial plots
DPIRD senior research officer Dr Bob French, has been working with colleagues Grant Stainer and Dr Michael Francki (not pictured) on a Grains Flagship project at the department’s Merredin Research Facility to identify germplasm that performs well in dry conditions from which new, improved varieties can be developed.

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