Findings shine light on drought, frost tolerance

30 Sep, 2011 02:38 PM
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CSIRO Plant Industry's Rudy Dolferus, Nicola Powell and Xuemei Ji.
CSIRO Plant Industry's Rudy Dolferus, Nicola Powell and Xuemei Ji.

Wheat’s variable tolerance to shade could be the key to fast-tracking the identification of varieties which can withstand drought, frost and heat, without incurring big yield losses.

CSIRO Plant Industry researcher Rudy Dolferus said Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded research had this year confirmed that drought-tolerant wheat lines were also able to tolerate shading conditions.

Most recently, wheat lines less susceptible to frost - identified in GRDC supported field trials by Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) researcher Ben Biddulph - were also found to be less susceptible to low light conditions.

“These new findings strengthen evidence that wheat’s ‘light sensitivity’ is genetically variable, and linked to its ability to tolerate environmental stresses during the reproductive stage, when grain yields are particularly vulnerable,” Dr Dolferus said.

“This confirmed link between shade tolerance and tolerance to environmental stresses will allow CSIRO Plant Industry to develop more efficient screening methods to identify wheat lines tolerant to environmental stresses.

“Using screening methods which involve shading of plants is much easier and cheaper than traditional screening methods used to identify plants tolerant to drought, frost and heat.

“For example, drought tolerant lines we have identified at CSIRO can still produce grain even after three days in the dark.

“It is yet to be confirmed whether or not shade-tolerant plants are also heat tolerant, but the evidence is stacking up and these new frost results are very promising.”

Dr Dolferus said the screening technology would help work carried out in the GRDC supported Managed Environment Facilities (MEFs) and in the National Frost Initiative.

He said it was important to understand the effect of stresses on wheat, as even mild stress during reproductive development could have a dramatic effect on grain yields.

“Also, predictions of more frequent extreme weather conditions could cause incidences of crop failure to become the norm rather than the exception,” he said.

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