Barley discovery could boost farmers

Recent research at the Wait Institute of University of Adelaide has uncovered a discovery that could be a huge difference maker for barley farmers across the Upper Spencer Gulf region. The study of barley and its reaction to higher temperatures revealed a novel mechanism where the removal of a certain protein resulted in the formation of additional branches at higher temperatures.

Associate Professor Matthew Tucker, a co-author of the study, said the discovery meant gene editing could provide a way for farmers to get higher yields during hot conditions. “This study reveals a new role of this protein family in responding to thermal change and directing the composition of flowers on a stem,” he said.

“With short to medium temperature rises predicted globally, plant scientists and breeders have an enormous challenge ahead of them to generate crop yields needed to feed growing populations in higher temperatures. “By having a better understanding of the genes underpinning desirable plant traits in response to temperature scientists can offer insights into breeding climate-smart plants to sustain productivity.”

In barley, a protein known as HvMADS1 regulates the number of flowers generated on each spike, in response to high temperatures. Using gene editing researchers were able to generate new plants that lack HvMADS1 function, converting an unbranched barley spike into a branched structure which bears more flowers at high temperatures.

The researchers say this work provides new avenues for crop breeding potential to overcome the traditional compromise between heat tolerance and high yield. “This collaborative research demonstrates the value of gene editing strategies in crops, which are routinely used at the Waite Research Institute at the University of Adelaide,” Associate Professor Tucker said.

Mr Tucker said the new findings could be a big win for farmers in Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Augusta, enabling them to get high yields in high temperatures without having to compromise.

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