More grain from the rain
By Roger Nicoll
A cutting-edge technique pioneered in Australia – coupled with a trend-setting, pioneering wheat breeding partnership – has given birth to Rees, a new drought resistant Australian Hard that promises more grain per millimetre of rainfall.
Some facts about Rees
In a dry year, Rees can produce about five percent more grain than a comparable wheat receiving the same rainfall, according to one member of the research team, Dr Richard Richards from CSIRO Plant Industry.
He says Rees owes its edge in the dry to the innovative technique of carbon isotope discrimination, known as the DELTA technique.
This technique was developed by scientists from CSIRO and the Australian National University, with the support of growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC.
It involves crushing up the leaves of plants and using a ratio mass spectrometer to measure how much of the various carbon isotopes are present. By measuring the carbon isotope ‘signature’, the DELTA technique has enabled researchers to select high water-efficiency characteristics in Rees
“To our knowledge this technique hasn’t been used anywhere else in the world for breeding and it is attracting tremendous global interest,” says Dr Richards.
“The DELTA technique flows out of the observation that some plants are hungry for any form of carbon dioxide they can get,” he says. Most plants prefer the common form of carbon dioxide (12CO2), which is found in the air and used by plants as food for photosynthesis.
“Many plants don’t like the rarer form of carbon dioxide (13CO2) as much and will discriminate against it. However we have found that some plants are hungry for any form of carbon dioxide (12C or 13C) as a food source and these are the ones we selected in the development of Rees.”
Dr Richards says the carbon 13C hungry plants also produce more grain per millimetre of rainfall.
Following Drysdale, Rees is the second wheat variety released under the Graingene joint venture between AWB Limited, CSIRO Plant Industry, GRDC and Syngenta.
“Like Drysdale, Rees is a robust variety with excellent resistance to stripe, leaf and stem rust and high tolerance of root lesion nematode,” Dr Richards says.
Rees was bred and selected by Graingene and Enterprise Grains Australia – a joint venture between the WA Department of Agriculture, NSW Agriculture, the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and the GRDC.
“These sorts of partnerships are the way of the future and the way to better crop varieties because they bring together complementary skills and resources,” says Dr Richards. “It is very rare for one particular organisation to be able to put together all of the complex traits that we are looking for in new varieties.”
The breeding team and AWB Seeds, which is responsible for commercialising Rees and distributing seed, is excited about its potential in the Asian noodle markets. “Rees is showing excellent potential for yellow alkaline noodle quality in Asia – a premium market for Australian wheat,” says Roger Tripathi, AWB Seeds acting general manager.
“Because of its outstanding milling qualities we may end up with a separate segmentation for Rees. Before this is possible we need to quantify some of the results and get further feedback from South Korea and Japan.”
Queensland growers and collaborating growers in southern NSW, central NSW, WA and some parts of Victoria have been trialling Rees and growing it for seed bulk-up in 2003.
They started with 10 tonnes at the beginning of the year and 1000 tonnes is expected to be available for Queensland and northern NSW in 2004, according to Mr Tripathi. Some seed will also be available in WA.
GRDC RESEARCH CODE CSP00018, program 1
Varieties displaying this symbol beside them are protected under the Plant Breeders Rights Act 1994.