Wheat that is impervious to salt has been bred by a team of scientists in Australia.

Using ‘non-GM’ crop breeding techniques, scientists from CSIRO Plant Industry introduced a salt-tolerant gene into a commercial durum wheat, which then achieved an improved grain yield of 25% in salty soils.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Research Institute have been working to understand how the gene has delivered salinity tolerance to the plants.
The authors of the study said that wild relatives of modern-day wheat remain a significant source of genes for a range of traits, including salinity tolerance. They discovered the new salt-tolerant gene in an ancestral cousin of modern-day wheat, Triticum monococcum.

Doctor Rana Munns, CSIRO Plant Industry scientist, said: “This work is significant as salinity already affects over 20% of the world’s agricultural soils, and salinity poses an increasing threat to food production, due to climate change.”

The paper’s senior author, Doctor Matthew Gilliham, added: “Salinity is a particular issue in the prime wheat-growing areas of Australia, the world’s second-largest wheat exporter after the USA. With the global population estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, and the demand for food expected to rise by 100% in this time, salt-tolerant crops will be an important tool to ensure future food security.”

The research is the first of its kind to fully describe the improvement in salt tolerance of an agricultural crop – from understanding the function of the salt-tolerant genes in the lab, to demonstrating increased grain yields in the field, said the university.