Gene break­through

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - News -

RE­SEARCHERS from The Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land have dis­cov­ered that a key gene that con­trols flow­er­ing time in wheat and bar­ley crops also di­rects the plant’s root growth.

Project leader Dr Lee Hick­ery from the Queens­land Al­liance for Agri­cul­ture and Food In­no­va­tion (QAAFI) said the dis­cov­ery was a ma­jor break­through in un­der­stand­ing the ge­net­ics of root de­vel­op­ment and could boost food se­cu­rity by al­low­ing re­searchers to breed crops bet­ter adapted to a range of en­vi­ron­ments.

“Wheat and bar­ley are an­cient crops and hu­mans have been grow­ing them for thou­sands of years,” Dr Hickey said.

“Over the years, farm­ers and more re­cently plant breed­ers, have made sig­nif­i­cant progress se­lect­ing for above-ground traits, yet have largely ig­nored the ‘hid­den half’ of the plant – its roots. Our dis­cov­ery that the VRN1 gene, which is known to reg­u­late flow­er­ing in wheat and bar­ley crops, also plays a role in the plant’s abil­ity to re­spond to grav­ity, thereby di­rect­ing root growth and de­ter­min­ing the over­all shape of the root sys­tem.”

Dr Hickey said this un­ex­pected in­sight into the un­der­ground func­tions of the VRN1 gene has ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for op­ti­mis­ing ce­real crops.

“A par­tic­u­lar vari­ant of VRN1 in bar­ley, known as the Morex al­lele, si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­duced early flow­er­ing and main­tained a steep, cheap and deep root sys­tem,” Dr Hickey said.

“This is ex­cit­ing be­cause flow­er­ing time is a key driver for yield and the VRN1 gene ap­pears to of­fer a dual mech­a­nism that could not only boost crop yield but also im­prove wa­ter and nu­tri­ent ac­qui­si­tion.”


BREAK­THROUGH: A key gene that con­trols flow­er­ing time in wheat and bar­ley crops also di­rects the plant’s root growth, sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered.

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