Australian research on wild cereal DNA could help in development of dry climate rice

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 19th December 2011

Scientists from two Australian universities in collaboration with an international academic have discovered ancient wild cereal genes that could potentially allow less water to be used in conventional crops.

In a report published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ today, University of Queensland’s Professor Robert Henry said there were global implications for the discovery.

Professor Henry said that wild rice plants in hotter and drier parts of Australia tend to be more genetically diverse. This finding will be useful in selecting crop varieties that can cope with a variable and changing climate.

The genetic diversity found by the scientists is seen as a bulwark against climate change because some genes also offer plants a degree of resistance to bacterial and fungal pathogens, both of which are known to attack plants under stress.

In a study conducted over more than 238 km of remote landscape, researchers from the University of Queensland and Southern Cross University, in New South Wales, compared the wild cereal varieties growing in Australia with those found in the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture began in the cradle of civilisation.

The Fertile Crescent is a geographical region that stretches more than 2000 km across the Middle East from the Nile in Egypt to the waters of the Persian Gulf to the east.

The wild rice research project is a collaboration with Professor Eviatar Nevo from the Institute for Evolution in Israel, which has developed a number of advances in DNA-sequencing technology to examine the genetics of wild-plant populations on a large scale.