Salinity tolerance to increase wheat yields in water-limited environments

The primary goal of this project is to establish the role of a key protein controlling Na+ transport to the shoot in driving salt tolerance in well-watered and water-limited environments.

The collaborative partner on this project will be Longreach Plant Breeders.

yellow flower field near green grass field

More about the project

Salinity significantly reduces plant yield. In Australia the cost of salinity on agriculture productivity is valued at $1 billion pa. Efforts to improve crop salt tolerance have focused on limiting the delivery of toxic sodium (Na+) ions to leaves. Reducing Na+ in leaves has had a limited success in increasing crop salt tolerance. We hypothesis Na+ has an important role in lowering leaf water potential and enhancing water uptake in the dry Australian climate. This project will establish the role of a key protein controlling Na+ transport to the shoot in driving salt tolerance in well-watered and water limited environments.

Recently a natural mutation in a key gene (TaHKT1;5) involved in excluding Na+ from the shoot has been identified (Borijin et al. 2020). This results in wheat plants accumulating significant levels of Na+ in the shoot but does not impact biomass production and/or yield (Genc et al. 2019; Borijin et al 2020; Borijin et al 2021). Questions still remain as to how the wheat can tolerate these high levels of shoot Na+, and whether this phenotype can result in an advantage in water limited environments.

This project will make use of natural and genome edited plants to address whether this TaHKT1;5 mutation is beneficial.

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Potential project supervisors

Caitlin Byrt

Caitlin is the co-founder of Membrane Transporter Engineers (MTE). MTE develops protein components for a highly specific element and nutrient separation from complex solutions and for crop improvement purposes. MTE have designed novel protein components and tested the function of hundreds of naturally occurring diverse membrane proteins using cutting-edge and highly specialised approaches. MTE engineers value-adding components for advancing membrane separation technologies and improving plant productivity in challenging environments. The components MTE creates can be embedded in membrane-based filtration systems for gaining new functions and used in critical mineral processing, and MTE deliver components that can be incorporated in plant cell membranes for improving crop performance.

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Stuart Roy

Stu is an Associate Professor and Interim Head of the Department of Agricultural Sciences at the School of Agriculture, Food & Wine, University of Adelaide. He is currently the Deputy Director (Industry) for the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Accelerated Future Crop Development and formerly the Director for the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot and Dry Environment. His interests are in improving the abiotic stress tolerance of cereals crops, particularly salinity tolerance, and in improving cereal yield.

Stu gained a BSc (Hons) in Plant and Environmental Biology for the University of St Andrews (UK) and a PhD in Plant Physiology from the University of Cambridge (UK). After a Broodbank Research Fellowship at Cambridge, Stuart moved to the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, University of Adelaide, to lead the Salinity Research program. He continues this program today in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

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