StatusAustralia

A group of international researchers have discovered two new genes in the barley plant that will shed light on the history of agriculture and also bring new capabilities to barley breeding programs. The new genes, Btr1 and Btr2, are completely new genetic discoveries and according to Emeritus Professor Geoff Fincher from the University of Adelaide in South Australia, “they will revolutionise what we know about the domestication of the crop.”

“This latest genomic information and the potential to introduce as yet unused wild barley traits may offer great new potential in our barley breeding programs,” said Fincher, who co-authored the study from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

The study was initiated in Japan by a group of geneticists at the Okayama University Institute of Plant Science and Resources and was led by professor Takao Komatsuda of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences.

Discoveries related to the brittle rachis show that there is a distinct difference between cell wall thickness in brittle and non-brittle plant type, which determines whether wild barley drops its grain to the ground at maturity or retains it in the ear.

–Source: Australian Research Council

Australian researchers have unraveled the mystery cause of the emerging wheat disease White Grain Disorder.

Scientists at the Wheat Biosecurity Laboratory in the Research School of Biology identified the cause of the disease when they isolated three previously undiscovered fungi from infected wheat samples and sequenced their genomes.

“Until now, growers and pathologists have recognised the symptoms of White Grain Disorder, but they haven’t known what causes it,” says lead researcher and associate professor Peter Solomon from the Research School of Biology.

“This finding now provides all stakeholders with confidence in what they are dealing with in the field.”

White Grain Disorder emerged about 20 years ago and has sporadically affected crops in Southern Queensland and South Australia, but until now has been poorly understood.

“This is an important advance to the field, as it can be difficult to manage diseases when you don’t know what causes them. This study is crucial to our ability to manage this disease in the future,” says Solomon.

“Growers who have invested heavily in their crops for the growing season can now have confidence of knowing what the pathogens are behind the disease and what they can do about it.”

The team found the disease is caused by three previously unidentified fungi, which occur in different proportions in different diseased areas, although they produce identical symptoms

–Source: Australian National University

StatusChina

An important gene called GS2, which could significantly boost the yield of super-rice is successfully separated and cloned from the local rice variety Baodali in Zhejiang province, China, according to a new study. The major findings were published in the latest issue of the well-known international journal Molecular Plant.

The introduction of this rare gene into rice cultivars could significantly enhance grain weight and increase grain yield, with possible applications in breeding high-yield rice varieties, the researchers say. The study presents the cloning and characterisation of a dominant quantitative trait loci (QTL), which encodes Growth-Regulating Factor 4 (OsGRF4), a transcriptional regulator. GS2 localises to the nucleus and may act as a transcription activator. A rare mutation of GS2 affecting the binding site of a microRNA, OsmiR396c, causes elevated expression of GS2/OsGRF4. The increase in GS2 expression leads to larger cells and increased numbers of cells, which thus enhances grain weight and yield.

–Source: Molecular Plant journal

StatusIndia

India’s premier agriculture research body Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has emphasised the importance of genetically engineered crops in bridging the demand and supply gap for foodgrains in the future. ‘Vision 2050’, which provides a strategic framework for innovation-led inclusive and sustainable agricultural growth in the country has listed research into genetically modified organisms (GMOs) among nine key areas which have to be harnessed to enhance productivity, nutrition, and farmers’ income.

ICAR in its vision document said, “Genetic enhancement is considered to be a major option to bridge the demand and supply gap under normal situations as well as under projected scenarios of increased frequency and intensity of stresses.” The document, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July, also noted that GMOs do not provide a ‘miracle solution’ to all problems, and detailed how scientific research in this area, backed by proper field trials, would help in dealing with safety and ethical aspects of genetically engineered crops.

“I am sure that ICAR Vision 2050 would stir new thinking in researchers to harness science, in the policymakers to develop policies for sustainable development of agriculture to provide food, income and livelihood, and in the consumers an urge to tailor their lifestyle, keeping in view the planetary boundaries of the Earth’s resource system,” said S. Ayyappan, director general of ICAR.

–Source: ICAR

StatusUnited States

A team led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside has reached a new milestone in its work, begun in 2000, on sequencing the barley genome. The researchers have sequenced large portions of the genome that together contain nearly two-thirds of all barley genes.

The new information, published in The Plant Journal, will not only expand geneticists’ knowledge of barley’s DNA but will also help in the understanding, at the genetic level, of wheat and other sources of food. It also has applications in plant breeding by increasing the precision of markers for traits such as malting quality or stem rust.

Because barley is a close relative to wheat, the new work could offer useful information leading to the complete sequencing of the wheat genome.

“What we have now is much finer resolution of genetic information throughout the barley genome,” said Timothy Close, a professor of genetics at UC Riverside and the corresponding author on the research paper. “This is an improved resource used throughout the world. Prior to this work, a long-held view was that the distribution of genes in the genomes of barley, wheat and their relatives is such that the gene-dense regions are only out near the ends of chromosomes where there is also a high rate of recombination. Our work revealed clear exceptions, identifying deviant regions that are gene-rich but low recombination.”

Recombination refers to the formation of new combinations of genes naturally during meiosis, which is a stage of the cell cycle where chromosomes pair up and undergo exchange. Close explained that plant breeders rely on meiotic recombination to introduce favourable forms of genes for malting quality, stem rust or any number of traits into cultivated varieties. Crosses are made and progeny plants are screened for desirable new combinations of traits. When a favourable form of a gene (allele) lies within a gene-dense, low recombination region it requires much more work to bring that favorable allele into an existing variety without also dragging in neighbouring genes that may exist in undesirable forms.

–Source: University of California, Riverside

StatusPakistan

After the Senate Agriculture Committee approved the amendments to Pakistan’s 1976 Seed Act, the full Senate will convene in the coming months to cast their votes.

Aside from the Seed Act, the Government of Pakistan is also reviewing the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, which would strengthen intellectual property protection, and the Biosafety Act, which would emphasise the role of the government in regulating biotech products.

The key provisions include:

• The amendments would bring the private sector under the purview of the Seed Act.

• Aspiring individuals or companies to join the seed industry must have a seed processing plant or register as a seed dealer.

• Sale of seeds without registration or sale of misbranded seeds would be subject to imprisonment or fine.

• Biotech seeds may not contain the gene that disallows replanting of the crop, but is not deployed in commercial crops.

• Biotech seeds must be approved by the National Biosafety Committee to be safe for the environment, humans, animals and plants.

–Source: USDA-FAS.

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