Tough new cereals that can withstand poor soil conditions

May 27, 2003

390 million hectares (circa 80% of the total land area) in Europe is currently laid to waste by acid soil toxicity. Now EUREKA project CEREALSTRESSOL is developing new varieties of crops that can cope with adverse due to natural stresses such as drought and due to abiotic, non-living stresses such as acid soil toxicity.

Acid soil toxicity is caused by the leaching of aluminum, manganese and other toxins into the soil through acid rain, acid forming fertilizers as well as the decay of organic matter caused by the drive to gain higher and higher yield from the soil.

EUREKA project CEREALSTRESSTOL brought together researchers from Hungary, Poland, Greece and Turkey. Dr. Lajos Bona, Senior Researcher at GKI (Cereal Research Non-Profit Company), Hungary explains how the partners met each other for the first time.

"EUREKA held a brokerage event in Poland in 1994, which provided a forum for various interested parties to discuss potential projects," says Bona. "We discovered that we were all working independently towards abiotic stress tolerant cereals, so it made perfect sense to work together."

The project's work began with the selection of several potential varieties based on previous work the researchers had carried out. As a result of this, 12 new types of germ-plasm were tested first in the laboratory in Poland and then in two-year field trials in Hungary. The outcome was three new cereal varieties that yield up to 6 per cent more than similar crops: GK Mero, a new wheat, GK Wibro, a new rye, and GK Bogo, a new wheat/rye cross.

"In theory these new varieties could expect to have a market life of between 10 and 15 years. If that proves to be the case, there could be significant profit for all concerned, from seedsmen through to farmers, who will naturally welcome the increased yield from poor land," says Bona.

According to Dr. Andrzej Aniol of the Polish Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute "CEREALSTRESSTOL speeded up work in Poland and Hungary saving 3-5 years in the process".

"One of the keys to our success was the combination of expertise that working together enabled. It was like bringing together all the pieces of a jigsaw," says Bona. "Researchers at the Marmara Research Centre in Turkey are experts in molecular techniques such as DNA fingerprinting. Staff in the botany department at Aristotle University in Greece, on the other hand, were able to research the effects of metal stress on cereal enzymes and photosynthesis."

Not everything was easy as the partners struggled with high Hungarian and Polish inflation rates that ate up budgets set fours year earlier. The Hungarian and Polish partners have put that behind them now and are continuing to work together, hoping to further develop, exchange, and test new genetic material for agricultural use.

"Working in EUREKA in the early part of our democracy and in a renewing business area was an outstanding situation," recalls Bona. "At that time, a relatively low amount of administrative work made EUREKA attractive to me."

EUREKA is ...
A European network for market-oriented R&D
- strengthening European competitiveness
- promoting innovation in market-oriented collaborative projects
- involving industry, research institutes and universities across Europe
- resulting in innovative products, processes and services
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EUREKA
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