ANU00020 - The generation of wheat cultivars with improved drought tolerance
Producing drought tolerant varieties of wheat with negligible impact on yield in good seasons is critical for the success of the Australian farming sector. Avoiding GM will streamline the speed at which new genetic material can be incorporated into breeding programs. There could be improved productivity in dry seasons and regions. In a significant study carried out on the model plant Arabidopsis (a relative of canola), we discovered earlier that plants lacking a functional copy of SAL1 gene are more drought tolerant. In other words, this genetic variation or mutation, enhances the capacity of plants to survive for up to 50% longer in water deficit conditions. In order to exploit this knowledge to understand the drought response mechanism in the cereal crops, such as rice or wheat, we undertook a project funded by GRDC. The aim of the project was to investigate the role of SAL1 gene in the Australian wheat variety Chara. We discovered seven copies of this gene in wheat and assigned their chromosomal locations. We identified 10 wheat lines lacking two out of the seven SAL1 genes.
The proposed project would be the continuation of previous study which aims to analyze the wheat lines with non- functional or reduced level of SAL1 activity. A pairwise crossing program involving 10 identified SAL1 mutants has been initiated to study the effects of these mutants on drought tolerance. This project will employ a breeding program to combine more than one mutation in a single wheat line to improve the chances of achieving significantly enhanced drought tolerance. Drought tolerance and yields of these combinations of mutant lines will be characterized under both water stressed and well watered conditions in the glasshouse and in Managed Environment Facilities.We hypothesize that the best combination of SAL1 mutant lines may remain green, turgid and photosynthetically active, producing more leaves, flowers and seed during mild to moderate water deficit periods.Additionally, we will measure the molecular and biochemical traits (ABA, SAL1 and metabolites) in a subset of the selected Australian wheat varieties under water stressed and well watered conditions. This study will enable us to determine the underlying biochemical basis of drought tolerance in elite cultivars and potentially correlate ABA, SAL1 or specific metabolites with drought tolerance in Australian wheat.
The expected outcomes of this project are as follows:
1. This study will provide the growers with access to wheat varieties with higher yields than current dominant varieties under moisture-limited conditions.
2. Intermediate Outcome: Breeders deploying SAL1 mutant genes in their breeding programs to increase wheat yield stability under water limited conditions.
3. SAL1 established as a marker of drought in wheat.
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