Cheaper, faster barley breeding

Dr Phil Davies — barley lines from pollen grains for about one-tenth the cost of the existing doubled haploid technology

SA Research and Development Institute (SARDI) scientists have developed new barley breeding technology with the potential to add millions of dollars to the Australian barley industry.

The scientists have successfully produced doubled haploid barley lines from pollen grains for about one-tenth of the cost of the existing doubled haploid technique, another culture.

To get a doubled haploid plant, breeders make a cross between two or more favoured 'parents' and grow plants from the resulting pollen to create a new line. This reduces genetic instability in subsequent generations (compared to traditional breeding techniques) and means that new lines can be field-tested very early in the selection process, saving some three years in the breeding-to-release cycle.

Until recently doubled haploid production centred on anther culture, where anthers containing pollen grains are placed on a special growing medium. However, of the 3,000-4,000 grains in an anther, at best only one ultimately becomes a new barley plant.

Now using a technique known as isolated microspore culture (IMC), SARDI senior research officer Phil Davies and his colleagues are able to get at least 10 'plantlets' to grow from pollen taken from an anther.

"This is reducing the cost of producing barley doubled haploids from $25 per plant to less than $2.50 because one person can now produce about 10,000 plants a year by the IMC technique instead of 1,000 by anther culture," Dr Davies said.

He said the first seed from IMC will be multiplied over summer. "The accelerated release of new cultivars with even small yield increases or improvements in quality represents value to the industry in the order of tens of millions of dollars."