A variety of wheat from ancient Persia has been used to successfully breed the world's first salt-tolerant durum wheat variety, writes the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) this week.
According to the group, Italian pasta makers consider Australian durum wheat the best quality in the world but its sensitivity to salt has limited where it can be grown.
The new variety, bred by CSIRO Plant Industry and NSW Agriculture, will give farmers in salt-affected areas the opportunity to grow durum wheat and attract higher prices, while increasing Australia's world market share in premium wheat.
"There are two mechanisms for salt tolerance in cereals like wheat," said Dr Rana Munns, senior research scientist at CSIRO Plant Industry.
"One is the exclusion of salt by the plant's roots, the other is tolerance of salt in the leaves. Bread wheat has one and barley has the other, but modern durum wheat has neither."
Dr Munns and Dr Ray Hare, from the Enterprise Grains Australia wheat and durum breeding programme, discovered an ancient salt-tolerant durum wheat variety that excluded salt. The team were able to breed the tolerance mechanisms of the ancient wheat variety into modern breeding lines and current Australian varieties.
"Our test results indicate that the new durum wheat has salt tolerance equal to bread wheat, giving growers in salt-affected areas an alternative profitable crop," said Dr Munns.
"Extensive field trials are planned for next year," Dr Hare said.
"If successful, a salt-tolerant durum wheat variety could be available to growers within three years."
The research is a collaborative project between CSIRO and NSW Agriculture, with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).