A dainty pink flower with a tinge of yellow is one characteristic of a hybrid plant representing a genetic pathway to transfer best plant characteristics between narrow-leafed and yellow lupins.
The hybrid, a world first, is the result of 1600 crosses made during 2008 by researchers based at the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) at The University of Western Australia (UWA).
Dr Jon Clements, project leader for the Grains Research and Development Corporation-supported project, said the aim was to transfer desirable characteristics from yellow lupin (Lupinus luteus) to narrow-leafed lupin (Lupinus angustifolius).
"Narrow-leafed lupin is the most important grain legume in WA due to its adaptation to infertile sandy soils, reasonable tolerance to pests and diseases and its use as a break crop," Dr Clements said.
"Yellow lupin has superior seed quality to narrow-leafed lupin, but is susceptible to anthracnose and aphid damage.
"This breakthrough in producing flowering hybrid plants between these two species creates the opportunity to transfer traits from L. luteus to L. angustifolius and vice versa."
Confirmation of the hybrids was made by visually intermediate plant characteristics and also through molecular marker analysis.
Dr Clements emphasised that achieving the hybrid cross had been a team effort by John Quealy, Leah Chong, Dr Larissa Prilyuk, Dr Hua’an Yang and Gordon Francis, the group which crossed thousands of flowers and tissue-cultured hundreds of embryos to generate a few individuals.
He also acknowledged the valuable input from past team member Dr Julia Wilson and collaborators Dr Heather Clarke, Dr Bevan Buirchell, Professor Craig Atkins, Dr Mark Sweetingham and Professorial Fellow John Kuo.
"One challenge to be overcome is crossing lupin species with differing numbers of chromosomes," Dr Clements said.
The next step will be backcrossing the hybrids to lupin cultivars and incorporating them into the breeding program managed by Dr Bevan Buirchell, senior lupin breeder at the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA).
The introgressed genes would then be tracked using molecular marker assisted breeding in molecular geneticist Dr Hua’an Yang’s laboratory at DAFWA and further cytogenetic work would be done at UWA, depending on funding.
Brondwen MacLean, GRDC Manager for Pulse and Oilseeds, said growers were keen to see lupins become more valuable.
"While the breeding program is clearly focussed on increasing yield, yield potential must be considered in the context of cultivars requiring traits which ensure grower adoption and market acceptance," Ms MacLean said.
"As lupins are price benchmarked against the dominant market positions of soybean meal and canola meal, increasing protein and sulphur amino acids in narrow-leafed lupin is important to increase the price paid."
Dr Clements will present on the new hybrid at the 14th Australian Plant Breeding Conference at Cairns in August.