Hybrid plant varieties – how they could tackle the challenges of food security and climate change

A recent article posted on Phys.org notes that hybrid agricultural and horticultural crops can play an important role in supporting global food security. They produce higher yields and are often more resistant than non-hybrid varieties to diseases and climate stress.

But no hybrid varieties are available for many crops.

Referencing an article published in Nature Plants, thephys.org article looks into the reasons for this.  It says:

Maize is a globally very important crop, and the use of hybrid varieties is routine. The first type was introduced as far back as 1930. But that hasn’t happened for other major crops such as wheat and cassava. Now, for the first time, a comprehensive study has been done of all the factors that determine whether commercial plant breeders can come up with a hybrid variety. Sometimes there are biological challenges. Often, economic factors come into play.

It’s a uniquely comprehensive survey, published in the journal Nature Plants. The authors of the article are associated with hybrid potato breeding company Solynta and Wageningen University & Research. The lead author is Emily ter Steeg, a Ph.D. candidate in development economics. Continue reading

Gene-edited tomatoes could be a new source of vitamin D

Tomatoes gene-edited to produce vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, could be a simple and sustainable innovation to address a global health problem.

Researchers used gene editing to turn off a specific molecule in the plant’s genome which increased provitamin D3 in both the fruit and leaves of tomato plants. It was then converted to vitamin D3 through exposure to UVB light.

Vitamin D is created in our bodies after skin’s exposure to UVB light, but the major source is food. This new biofortified crop could help millions of people with vitamin D insufficiency, a growing issue linked to higher risk of cancer, dementia, and many leading causes of mortality. Studies have also shown that vitamin D insufficiency is linked to increased severity of infection by Covid-19. Continue reading

Higher wheat yields and protein content on the horizon

A team of international researchers has discovered a way to produce higher-quality wheat.

The scientists from the University of Adelaide and the UK’s John Innes Centre have identified a genetic driver that improves yield traits in wheat, which unexpectedly can also lead to increasing protein content by up to 25 per cent.

“Little is known about the mechanism behind drivers of yields and protein content in wheat production,” said the University of Adelaide’s Dr Scott Boden, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine who led the research.

“Discovering a gene that controls these two factors has the potential to help generate new wheat varieties that produce higher quality grain.

“As wheat accounts for nearly 20 per cent of protein consumed worldwide, the impact of this research can significantly benefit society by providing grains with a higher protein content, which could therefore help produce more nutritious food, such as bread and breakfast cereals.” Continue reading

Plant scientists use new tools for better food crops

With millions facing hunger around the world, Flinders University researchers are looking into novel properties of edible plants which could enhance future food crop production.

The new studies, with Australian and international partners, separately examine how legumes use an alternative ‘respiration’ as a stress response – and how a popular pulse crop finds strength in a “ménage à trois” three-way relationship with soil and root systems.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization’s forecasts for 2030 includes worsening food security and nutrition for people in Asia, Africa and other countries with the pandemic, conflict and economic downturns exacerbating supply issues caused by climate change. Continue reading

New varieties could increase wheat yield by 20 per cent in a changing climate

New wheat varieties, which can be sown deeper to protect them from heat and drought stress, may increase wheat yield by 18 – 20%, according to Australian researchers.

The team used modelling and field data to assess the ability of new wheat varieties under the climate conditions of the past 120 years.

Their study has been published in Nature Climate Change.  

The abstract says:

Wheat yields are threatened by global warming and unreliable rainfall, which increase heat and drought stress. A potential adaptation strategy is to sow earlier and deeper, taking advantage of stored soil water.

However, the short coleoptiles of modern semi-dwarf wheat varieties reduce emergence when sown deep. Novel genotypes with alternative dwarfing genes have longer coleoptiles to facilitate deep sowing, but the yield benefit has been uncertain.

We validated new crop simulation routines with field data to assess the impact of novel genotypes on Australian wheat production. We predict that these genotypes, coupled with deep sowing, can increase national wheat yields by 18–20% under historical climate (1901–2020), without increased yield variability, with benefits also projected under future warming.

These benefits are likely to extend to other dryland wheat production regions globally. Our results highlight the impact of synergy between new genetics and management systems to adapt food production to future climates.

Their study was supported by the CSIRO’s Strategic Investment Project (SIP) ‘SIP268.

Link to research (DOI):10.1038/s41558-022-01305-9

Source:  Scimex

More resilient Aussie wheat needed as climate change heats up

University of Sydney researchers tested wheat in heat and carbon-intense conditions that replicate future climate change and found that many common varieties produce fewer grains – a wake up call for growers nationwide.

Some of the most popular wheat varieties in Australia cannot withstand our warming world, new University of Sydney research finds. Sensitive heat-stressed varieties produce significantly lower yields, suggesting further careful plant breeding and selection is urgently needed.

Researchers at the University of Sydney Plant Breeding Institute tested 23 varieties of Australian wheat at an atmospheric CO2 level of 800 parts per million – over double our current global average concentration – and at a temperature of 35°C.

They found elevated CO2 led to higher leaf temperatures by closing the wheat’s stomata – holes used to transpire (or ‘sweat’). This then reduced the viability of the wheat’s pollen, resulting in reduced grain yields. Continue reading

MOU signed with Lincoln University for potato research partnership

The board of Potatoes NZ Inc. (PNZ) has signed a memorandum of understanding with Lincoln University to launch a research partnership which includes a Centre of Excellence for Potato Research and Extension, based in Canterbury.

Lincoln University Associate Professor of Plant Science, Clive Kaiser, will be the establishment Director for the Centre of Excellence for Potato Research and Extension, and he says the new Centre will be extension-led and grower-centric.

He said he believes it will be a game changer for the potato industry. Continue reading

Engineered bacterial strains could fertilise crops, reduce waterways pollution

Researchers from Washington State University have engineered strains of the ubiquitous, nitrogen-fixing soil bacterium Azotobacter vinelandii to produce ammonia and excrete it at high concentrations, transferring it into crop plants in lieu of conventional chemical fertilisers.

Conclusive evidence shows that the ammonia released was transferred to the rice plants, said Florence Mus, Ph.D., assistant research professor, Institute of Biological Chemistry, Washington State University.

“Our unique approach aims to provide new solutions to the challenge of replacing industrial fertilisers with custom-made bacteria.”

In other words, this approach could mitigate a major source of environmental pollution. The research is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

The investigators used gene editing techniques to engineer A.vinlandii to produce ammonia at a constant level, regardless of environmental conditions surrounding the bacteria, and to excrete it at concentrations high enough to effectively fertilise crops. Continue reading

Wheat shifts its pest defenses under future climate conditions

Higher CO2 levels under future climate conditions may cause wheat to shift its pest defence strategy, according to Australian research.

When the researchers grew wheat under higher levels of CO2, they found it switched from silicon-based defences (these reduced by 19%) to carbon-based defences.

The good news is that the plants were still able to resist the cotton bollworm, a global wheat pest.

The switch wasn’t enough to change resistance to this pest, but it may impact resistance to others, so applying silicon fertilisers may help maintain pest resistance in future climates, the authors say.

Just three grass crops – wheat, maize and rice – provide 42% of human calories. Continue reading

Flowering plants may hold key to pesticide reduction on citrus orchards

A Gisborne-based project is exploring a biological method of dealing to insect pests on citrus orchards by understorey planting to attract beneficial insects.

Leaving bare earth under citrus trees and intensively mowing the grass strips between orchard rows may become a thing of the past as te approach is revolutionised through strategic planting, says A Lighter Touch project manager Jeff Smith.

“We’ve undertaken trials planting under and beside the trees – ranging from flowering perennials such as clovers and alyssum to annuals like buckwheat and phacelia. These plants and others may hold the key to helping us enhance the agroecosystem and provide resources for beneficial insects to thrive, which would reduce the need for applications of agrichemicals.”

The two-year project is part of A Lighter Touch, a $27 million, seven-year programme backed by the horticultural industry and Government through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund. Continue reading