Nav: Home

Heat, salt, drought: This barley can withstand the challenges of climate change

July 10, 2019

Research for the benefit of food security: A new line of barley achieves good crop yields even under poor environmental conditions. It has been bred by a research team from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), which crossed a common variety with various types of wild barley. The researchers then planted the new lines of barley in five very different locations around the world, observed the growth of the plants and analysed their genetic make-up. As the team reports in "Scientific Reports", some of the plants were not only more resistant to heat and drought, but in many cases achieve higher yields than local varieties.

Barley, along with wheat and rice, is one of the most important cereals for human nutrition. "The demand for food is increasing worldwide, which is why the cultivation of these cereals must generate reliable crop yields. However, climate change is taking its toll on cultivation conditions worldwide and plants have to be fertilized and irrigated more frequently," says plant scientist Professor Klaus Pillen from MLU. His research team is studying how to improve common cereal varieties for years. Their approach is to cross certain industrially used barley varieties with wild barley. "Wild barley has adapted to adverse environmental conditions over millions of years. It still has a rich biodiversity today," explains Pillen. The idea is to combine the advantageous properties of both cereals.

For the study, the research team crossed a typical barley variety with 25 types of wild barley. This resulted in 48 genetically different plant lines, which the research team planted at five very different locations around the world: Dundee (UK), Halle (Germany), Al Karak (Jordan), Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Adelaide (Australia). Each of these places has its own environmental conditions: Australia and Dubai suffer from very salty, dry soils, Al Karak and Dubai from heat and drought. In Germany and UK, fields always receive additional nitrogen fertilizer in order to increase crop yields. During the cultivation period, the scientists observed the growth of the plants under environmental stress and compared the results to native varieties from a control group. "We then selected plants from our cultivation that grew particularly well on site and examined their genetic material more closely," continues Pillen. The researchers wanted to draw conclusions about the interaction between genes, the environment and crop yields.

"Our study also shows that the timing of plant development is extremely important. This ensures maximum crop yields even under unfavourable environmental conditions," says Pillen. By this he means, for example, the length of daylight, which varies according to latitude: the closer a place is to the equator, the shorter the duration of daily sunshine during spring and summer. This has a big impact on the development of the plants. "In northern Europe, it is more advantageous for plants to flower later. The closer you get to the equator, it's better for plants to develop much faster," explains Pillen. Based on genetic analyses of the plants, the team was also able to draw conclusions about the gene variants that cause this acceleration or delay in development.

Knowing which gene variants are advantageous for which geographical regions allows plants that are particularly well adapted to the local conditions to be crossed, bred and cultivated according to the modular principle. And this is all well worth the effort: even under adverse conditions, Halle's best barley produced up to 20 percent higher yields than native plants.

In follow-up projects, the research team would like to further investigate the genetic material in order to gain more detailed insights into the stress tolerance of plants. The findings from the new study can, in principle, also be applied to other cereal varieties, such as wheat and rice.
-end-
This work was financially supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) via the priority program 1530: 'Flowering time control - from natural variation to crop improvement' with grants Pi339/7-1 and Pi339/7-2) and via ERA-NET for Coordinating Action in Plant Sciences (ERA-CAPS) grant Pi339/8-1. Funding from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is also gratefully acknowledged. We are grateful to a multitude of research assistants, located at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, the Martin Luther University in Halle, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas and NCARE in Al-Karak, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai and at the University of Adelaide for their excellent technical support in conducting the global field trials. We are grateful to Drs. Micha Bayer and Joanne Russell, The James Hutton Institute, Dundee, UK, providing exome capture-based SNP data of Ppd-H1, Ppd-H2, sdw1 and Vrn-H1, collected through the WHEALBI consortium (https://www.whealbi.eu/).

Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...