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Making barley like saline soil


Wageningen, Netherlands – Not only is climate change harming agriculture, salinisation of agricultural land is a global problem. Worldwide, about 3,230,000 km² of agricultural land is in some way affected by saline contamination according to FAO/UNESCO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations/ United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

The ideal is to find crops that have tolerance to soil with high saline content. Barley breeders may soon develop varieties of barley which are both less sensitive to high concentrations of salt ions in the plant and more resistant to osmotic stress caused by saline soil. Nguyen Viet Long, who hopes to obtain his doctorate at Wageningen University (part of the international expertise organisation Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) whose mission is to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life) has found two sequence regions in the chromosomes of barley that contain the genes for these two properties. The section comprising resistance to osmotic stress in particular is receiving a great deal of international attention from scientists working on salt tolerance. Nguyen is hoping that barley varieties which can be cultivated in saline soils will reach the market within around five years, thanks in part to his results.

Nguyen worked together with the Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung (IPK) in Germany, which has a large collection of different varieties of barley. Nguyen examined some two hundred different varieties, including barley types from the Middle East. This is the area where barley originated, which means that large genetic variation can be found there – and the greater the genetic variation of examined varieties, the higher the chance of finding genetic factors that can be used in plant breeding. Being able to investigate so many different types of barley enabled Nguyen to determine the positions of the important hereditary properties faster and more accurately.

This research was funded by Wageningen UR Plant Breeding and the Vietnamese Ministry of Education.