Drought-tolerant GM wheat under trial Down Under

Written by Joseph Vackayil | Chennai, Jun 29 | Updated: Jul 1 2008, 05:26am hrs
Climate change is affecting more and more wheat growing areas in the world making it drought- prone. Expert studies reveal that around the world, 35-50% of wheat-growing areas are under drought risk. The number of drought-affected wheat growing areas is likely to increase because of climate change.

The wheat-producing countries like the USA, Argentina, China, India and Australia which face the risk of drought have to embrace new technologies to continue to meet the demands of the domestic and global wheat market.

Biosciences Research Centre - a joint venture between the Victorian government and La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia - has developed drought-tolerant wheat. Initial results have shown that the genetically modified wheat variety was returning yields up to 20% higher than non-GM control crops, premier of Victoria, John Brumby said.

International Society for Acquisition of Agricultural Biotechnology (ISAA), has quoted Brumby as saying that the initial results are very promising and suggest that these genetically modified wheat lines may be part of the solution to help farmers maintain and improve their crop yields in a changing global environment.

He said that drought has significantly reduced Victoria's wheat crops in 2006-07. With average yields worth approximately $300 million, a 20% boost could provide as much as $80 million to the wheat industry. Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Research Division executive director, Professor German Spangenberg, who has been leading trials near Horsham and Mildura, said analysis of the crop, grown last year and harvested early this year, confirmed increased crop yields and maintenance of grain size.

Twenty-four lines of GM wheat were tested and of those, seven were identified as providing higher yields under drought stress, Professor Spangenberg said. Two lines exceeded the yield of the control experimental variety by 20%,he added.

In the GM wheat lines, candidate genes associated with improved performance were introduced into the experimental wheat variety Bobwhite, which was used as the control variety in these experiments at the Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre.

Drought-tolerant GM wheat lines will require many years of research and assessment before they could be considered for commercial use. Professor Spangenberg said the results required confirmation in next season's field trials. DPI has lodged an application with the Federal Gene Technology Regulator to plant additional trials of GM wheat lines over the next two years.