Published in the Stock Journal – Sept. 14, 2015, 4 a.m.
SA will be the epicentre of Australian grain research, with a $11.4-million research hub launched at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus on Friday.
The Australian Research Council Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot and Dry Climate marks a new era in wheat breeding and research in Australia.
It brings together wheat researchers and Australia’s three major wheat breeding companies to exploit global diversity for wheat and advanced genomic technologies for faster development of heat and drought tolerant varieties which make better use of nitrogen fertiliser.
“Wheat is one of Australia’s most important crops-worth over $5 billion a year-and globally among the most important sources of protein and carbohydrate for the human diet,” research hub director Associate Professor Sigrid Heuer said.
“But yields in Australia are low, mainly due to water limitation and high temperatures. Typical yields are about 1.5 tonnes a hectare compared to 8t/ha achieved in Europe.
“A single hot day at the wrong time can reduce yield by up to 50 per cent,” Assoc Prof Heuer said. “With the Wheat Research Hub, we will develop wheat that is tolerant of combined heat and drought stress, while maintaining high protein levels.
“With recent advances in genome sequencing and other technologies, and an ever-growing knowledge of plant biology, we now have the know-how and tools to translate this knowledge into plant breeding for the benefit of Australian grain growers and the economy.”
The researchers have brought together over 1000 types of wheat varieties and wheat-related plants from 57 countries around the world to find new genetic diversity. These plants will be screened for tolerance to Australian conditions.
“Using molecular marker technologies, we will be able to rapidly track traits of interest and integrate them into wheat breeding programs,” she said.
Another key objective of the Hub will be to break the negative link between high yield and desirable high grain protein.
“Although yields are low, Australian wheat is traded at high prices because of its superior grain quality, due to high protein. Unfortunately in high-yielding years the protein content drops because nitrogen is distributed to more grains, and diluted. We will study nitrogen-use efficiency and develop wheat varieties that make better use of nitrogen within the plant,” she said.
It is funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Industrial Transformation Research Hubs scheme and the Grains Research and Development Corporation. Partners include breeding companies Australian Grain Technologies, LongReach Plant Breeders and Intergrain, the University of Sydney and the University of South Australia.