Drought Tolerance

Drought tolerance in cereals is a key trait considering predicted increases in world population and the accompanying demand for land, food and water. Highly fertile soils will be increasingly occupied by urban areas and agriculture will be marginalized in less favourable environments. This critical process will be further compounded by unsuitable agricultural practices, erosion and increasing natural desertification of arable lands.

A strong international research commitment directed at understanding and manipulating drought tolerance in the world’s major cereal crops such as wheat, rice, maize, and barley underlines the significance of this trait for our modern world. Large breeding and selection programs targeting drought tolerance at CIMMYT (wheat), ICARDA (barley) and IRRI (rice) clearly indicate how important this issue is for the developing world, particularly for countries such as India, Pakistan and China. Australian agriculture is almost completely based on introduced cereal species. However, these non-native introductions often show poor adaptation to local conditions. The ecological zones of Australia include regions of extremely low and highly variable rainfall, which limit the range of cultivation and the performance of introduced species.
In addition, Australian soils are geologically very old and degraded with depleted levels of many essential nutrients such as zinc, manganese and copper. Moreover, large parts of Australia were flooded with seawater during past interglacial periods resulting in the deposition of high soil and subsoil concentration of boron (B), aluminium (Al) and sodium (Na). Growing grains under these harsh and hostile soil conditions adds an additional level of complexity to water limited environments.
Two strategies are used at the ACPFG for improving drought tolerance in wheat and barley: forward genetics based on mapping populations and reverse genetics by using biotechnology. We produce extensive omics and physiological dataset for both programs.
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