Barley brains from around the world

Barley harvest. Gene mapping of barley tops list of conference reports

For the first time in the Southern Hemisphere the International Barley Genetics Symposium was held in Australia. Adelaide was the host city for this major event which attracted 350 delegates from 40 countries in October. On this page Ground Cover presents some of the highlights of the symposium — the GRDC was the principal sponsor.

Plant breeders are under increasing pressure to produce varieties with multi-disease resistance characteristics — that was one of the main themes emerging from the recent International Barley Genetics Symposium.

Symposium secretary and Leader of the SA Barley Improvement Program, Andrew Barr said this trend was linked to barley improvements: increasing yields which, on the flip side, changed micro-climatic conditions in crops and fostered leaf-disease development.

He said that in Australia diseases such as the spot and net forms of net blotch, largely unheard of until the early 1990s, were now major problems.

Plant breeders were being asked to produce varieties that contained a range of resistances and this was a very complex task, calling on cutting-edge technology.

Other key barley issues emerged from the symposium.

  • The disease Fusarium head scab was now rife in parts of the US and Canada. It produced a toxin and also made beer 'gush. Australia needed to monitor its farming systems to ensure that any change did not lead to the development of this disease, e.g. an increase in the area sown to summer crops, some of which might host Fusarium head scab, Progress is being made with the development of hull-less barleys, particularly in Canada. While the main market target was for pig feed, varieties were also being developed suited to beer making and human food. Breeding of improved hull-less varieties was under way at the University of Adelaide, along with evaluation of alternative end uses for the grain.
  • Rapid progress in the gene mapping of barley is allowing breeders to better plan their plant crosses. In what will prove a major boost to the fast-track breeding of higher-yielding barley varieties, the genes that control boron tolerance have been identified by a team from Adelaide University and the Victorian Institute for Dryland Agriculture.

Scientists around the world have mapped genes responsible for various performance traits in barley. Knowing, for example, that there are 15 genes associated with malt extract levels in barley was a breakthrough.

The identification of markers for genes is ongoing — 18 of these had been identified for use in Australian breeding programs since the marker for CCN resistance was first identified in 1994 while many more have been developed for breeding programs in Europe, North America and Japan. These markers assist and hasten the selection process for new improved varieties.

Other reports

  • Research by US scientist Jan Bowman has produced breeding guidelines to make barley a better feed for ruminant livestock.
  • There was much interest in barley genomics (investigating all the genes of an organism) including how a barley plant reacted when put under stress. In the future it should be possible to better understand how genes interact in periods of drought or frost, for example. Then, through plant breeding and genetic engineering, it might be possible to manipulate the genes and 'fix up the weak spots'.
  • New technologies are being combined with traditional skills in cytogenetics to unlock potential new sources of valuable genes in wild relatives of barley such as Hordeum bulbosum and Hordeum spontaneum. Researchers reported new disease resistances, tolerance to drought, and special quality traits.

Program 1.3.1 Contact: Professor Andy Barr 08 8303 6553

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