New barley varieties with greater waterlogging tolerance are on the horizon, after a scientific breakthrough in genetic research identified a major contributing gene.
The discovery is the work of the Western Barley Genetics Alliance, a partnership between the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and Murdoch University, assisted by funds from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, and Tasmanian and Chinese partners.
Barley is particularly susceptible to waterlogging, which in wet seasons can cause yield losses of 20 to 50 per cent and quality penalties, such as small grain.
The research team, including scientists from the department, the University of Tasmania and Zhejiang and Yangzhou Universities in China, screened barley germplasm from around the world to identify lines that were more tolerant to waterlogging.
The team then used molecular marker-assisted technology to identify four genes that control tolerance to waterlogging, including one major gene.
Using the recently completed Barley Reference Genome Sequence, to which the Alliance contributed, new molecular markers were developed to target the waterlogging tolerance genes.
This gene was then incorporated into five barley varieties to compare their performance to the benchmark variety, Hindmarsh.
The new lines were tested in a restricted field trial at Katanning in 2016 under natural waterlogged conditions.
Alliance director, Professor Chengdao Li, said the results clearly indicated the superior performance of the lines with the new waterlogging tolerant gene.
“The varieties with the waterlogging tolerance gene achieved yields ranging from 101 to 154 per cent of Hindmarsh, demonstrating their ability to perform well under waterlogging conditions,” Professor Li said.
The waterlogging tolerance field trials will continue at locations near Albany and west of Williams.
Associate Professor Meixue Zhou from the University of Tasmania said the discovery of the water tolerant genes was aided by the recent mapping of the complete barley genome by an international consortium.
“We were able to use the whole barley genome to pinpoint genetic information from which molecular markers can be used to identify key genetic traits to enhance the performance of new lines,” Professor Zhou said.
“The development of new waterlogging tolerant varieties will give barley growers more choice to tailor their cropping program to the seasonal forecast to optimise productivity and profitability.”
The information from the research is provided to the commercial sector to develop new, improved barley varieties – a process that takes five to 10 years.