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New barley gene to help crops cope with a changing climate

Released on

Released on:
Friday, 3. February 2023 - 9:00

Western Australian plant geneticists have played an integral role in identifying a new semidwarf gene to breed barley crops that can better withstand climate change.

The collaboration between the Western Crop Genetics Alliance, University of Tasmania and Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science offers a new opportunity for developing barley varieties that can adapt to modern farming conditions.

The researchers have discovered a new semidwarf gene and developed diagnostic molecular markers to support faster breeding of varieties which carry desirable traits such as enhanced early emergence characteristics with deep seeding.

Chengdao Li is director of the Alliance, a partnership between the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and Murdoch University.

Professor Li said climate change has threatened production sustainability of common crop varieties based on the ‘green revolution’ in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“This green revolution was based on ‘dwarfing’ gene mutations that led to shorter stems, reducing competition for resources and helping lift yields,” he said.

“However, in warm and dry environments, commonly found in Australia’s cropping regions, the genes may overly reduce plant height, making mechanical harvest difficult.

“As climate change affects the intensity and frequency of rainfall, varieties with these genes may reduce grain weight, yield and biomass, particularly in drought-affected environments.

“It is also reported that the green revolution genes decrease coleoptile length, leading to poor emergence under deep sowing, a practice that growers have been using to ameliorate drought impacts.”

Professor Li said there was an urgent need for plant breeders to select short-statured barley cultivars with enhanced early emergence characteristics to counteract the climate change impact on grain production.

“A new semidwarf gene has been identified with moderate reduction of plant height and the gene can increase coleoptile length, therefore overcoming the weakness of traditional green revolution genes,” he said.

“Natural mutants have been identified and can be directly used in the breeding programs.

“Diagnostic molecular markers are available for breeders to fast-track breeding new varieties to carry the new semidwarf gene.

“CRISPR/CAS gene editing technologies have precisely created multiple desired types to achieve high grain yield potential at different environments.”

The findings were recently published online in the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Western Crop Genetics Alliance
Jingye Cheng (PhD student of University of Tasmania and Murdoch University), Professor Chengdao Li (Western Crop Genetics Alliance director) and Dr Yong Han (DPIRD molecular geneticist) inspect the gene-edited RGT Planet with modified plant height and flowering time at the GRDC Grain Precinct at Murdoch University.

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