Gains made in salt tolerant wheat

09 Mar, 2005 10:00 PM

THE development of genetically modified salt tolerant wheat in WA is continuing, with some promising signs in hydroponics experiments.

A trial at Murdoch University is attempting to develop salt tolerant bread wheat with good quality grain.

Grain Biotech Australia research scientist Scott McNeil said past experiments to develop salt tolerant wheat had not been able to produce commercial quality grain.

He said there were over four million hectares in WA susceptible to salinity.

"There is definitely a demand for it," he said.

Dr McNeil said GM and non-GM control plants compared in the project were subject to one third and four fifths sea water levels, with the GM salt tolerant wheat lasting longer and yielding more.

³With the salt tolerant plant we are getting bigger plants with more tillers, more heads and more grain yield,² he said.

"It's maturing a lot later, and puts in a lot more biomass over a longer period of time.

³This is just a hydroponics system and we need to take it to the next level, which is the field.²

He said a gene was incorporated in the salt tolerant plant to increase its production of proline, a compound that increased salt tolerance in wheat.

Dr McNeil said most plants increased their proline production when subject to salt stress.

"So what we have been able to do is increase the production of proline to increase the level of salt tolerance," he said.

He said that after analysing the results a decision would be made on whether or not to carry out field trials.

Dr McNeil, also speaking on behalf of AusBiotech at the workshop, said there was concern that once the WA moratorium on GM grain crops was lifted, WA growers would be less competitive than countries which had developed the technology.

"We are trying to put a strategy in place so WA does not get left behind when the moratorium is lifted," Dr McNeil said.

ìIn 2005 the State Government should put in place a pathway from research and development to full commercialisation of GM crops.î

Dr McNeil said data over seven years showed GM cotton in Australia had reduced the use of endosulfan by 90pc, and provided a $77ha advantage over non-GM cotton.

He said that last year 80 million hectares of GM crops of corn, canola, maize soybean and cotton, were planted by 17 countries, including the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, China, India and South Africa.

Last month the US National Association of Wheat Growers vice president Sherman Reese said the US wheat industry needed a range of biotechnology advancements to stay competitive.

He said the promise of biotechnology was so compelling, the faster they could do it the better off they would be.

Meanwhile The US Wheat Associates, which markets US wheat overseas, has voted to approve a plan to promote the safety and benefits of biotech wheat.



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