Scientists Use Ancient Gene To Create Salt-Tolerant Wheat Variety

Australian scientists have crossed a popular variety of wheat with an ancient species, producing a salt-tolerant variety they say could help reduce food shortages in the world’s arid and semi-arid regions. Using a genetic variation that had been lost in plants due to domestication before it was rediscovered a decade ago, the researchers say they were able to boost yields of durum wheat by 25 percent in salty soils. The gene, which was isolated from an ancestral cousin of modern-day wheat, Triticum monococcum, is believed to help prevent salt from traveling up the plant’s shoots, where it can cause damage, lead researcher Matthew Gilliham of the University of Adelaide, told Reuters. “Salty soils are a major problem because if soldium starts to build up in the leaves it will affect important processes such as photosynthesis,” he said. The findings could have an important impact on wheat yields worldwide, where salinity already affects more than 20 percent of soils, Gilliham said. The study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.