Barley and biotech

The Cooperative Research Centre for Plant Science in Canberra has a Barley Improvement Program focused on genetic engineering. It is part of the national program set up under the GRDC's National Malting Barley Research Agenda.

The following excerpts from the Centre's newsletter, Green Machinery, give growers an idea of the genetic research aimed at fast-tracking varieties with improved malting quality.

They also explain some of the grain biochemistry that needs to be manipulated to satisfy buyer demands.

The Centre involves cooperative research between CSIRO Plant Industry and the Australian National University.

The key technology in much of the Plant Science CRC's Malting Barley Improvement Program is barley transformation. Transforming barley plants with 'designer' genes has proved a major obstacle.

According to program leader Jake Jacobsen, successful protocols for barley transformation are now in place thanks to assistance from Dr Peggy Lemaux at the University of California, the world leader in this work.

"Current research is aimed at developing protocols for transforming selected Australian barley cultivars that will enable genes to be inserted into commercial or near commercial genetic backgrounds," said Dr Jacobsen.

He said the major aim of the Barley Improvement Program is to produce either commercially useful cultivars or new germplasm for all public breeding programs within about five years. Testing cultivars or breeding new cultivars incorporating new characteristics will take longer.

The CRC program also has underway basic research on quality-related and disease-related projects in barley.