Drought resilient wheat a step closer with discovery of new gene

05-12-2022 | |
Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

Researchers at the British John Innes Centre have discovered a new height-reducing gene that may lead to drought resilient wheat.

Thanks to the new height-reducing gene Rht13 seeds could be planted deeper in the soil giving access to moisture, without the adverse effect on seedling emergence seen with existing wheat varieties.

According to the scientists at the John Innes Centre varieties of wheat with the Rht13 gene could be rapidly bred into wheat varieties. This is to enable farmers to grow reduced-height wheat in drier soil conditions, effectively creating drought resilient wheat.

Reduced height genes increase wheat yields

Reduced height genes have increased global wheat yields because the short-stemmed wheat they produce puts more investment into the grains rather than into the stems and has improved standing ability.

However, these so-called Green Revolution genes bred into wheat also have a significant disadvantage: when these varieties are planted deeper to access moisture in water limited environments, they can fail to reach the surface of the soil.

Planting deeper in dry conditions

The newly discovered Rht13 dwarf gene overcomes this problem of seedling emergence because the gene acts in tissues higher up in the wheat stem. So, the dwarfing mechanism only takes effect once the seedling has fully emerged. This gives farmers a significant advantage when planting deeper in dry conditions.

The next step for this research will be to test how this drought resiliant wheat gene works in diverse agronomic environments from the UK to Australia. The research team are also investigating how the mechanism works and are exploring the hypothesis that it may be down to molecular restrictions on the cell wall preventing elongation.

Droughts are expected to continue, and along with them the pressure on growers to conserve, report, and adapt. In this Expert Opinion, Lydia Stewart, chief business officer at Virridy, explains how new technology can help farmers survive increasing droughts.

Hugo Claver Web editor for Future Farming