Scientists target star traits for future food security
7 January 2016
Victorian scientists are working to develop food crops now, that will be suited to higher carbon dioxide levels of the future.
Victorian Government and University of Melbourne scientists are testing wheats with different fertiliser needs and growth patterns in a bid to overcome future wheat quality problems linked to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.
Today the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 405 parts per million in air, but is expected to jump to 550 ppm by 2050 - this will potentially result in lower protein wheat with less baking qualities.
In a bid to better understand this, scientists at Horsham are growing wheat in special outdoor laboratories exposed to likely 2050 CO2levels.
Over the past seven years this work, known as AGFACE - Australian Grains Free Air CO2 Enrichment - has tested a range of different varieties of wheat under the elevated CO2.
AGFACE leader Glenn Fitzgerald (pictured) said scientists had identified that a transpiration efficiency trait implemented in one wheat variety – Drysdale - worked well under higher CO2 levels.
"A dry seasons line, Drysdale has good transpiration use efficiency (or needs less water to grow) and actually performed better under the 2050 levels," Dr Fitzgerald said.
Now this same principle is being applied using experimental wheat lines which can make the most efficient use of nitrogen, a nutrient which influences both grain protein levels and bread quality.
"Higher CO2 reduces grain protein in wheat, so finding a wheat that can reverse this decline would allow us to grow quality grain in the future," Dr Fitzgerald said.
Another issue being examined is tillering - or the shoots that grow from a plant stem – with the theory being that cutting the number of tillers could provide better grain yield results at harvest.
"Experimental lines with less tillering that might allow more soil water to be available later in the season for grain filling are being tested to see if they perform the same under future CO2 conditions," Dr Fitzgerald said.
"We don't know whether these higher protein and reduced tillering test lines will actually perform better under higher CO2 like Drysdale did, but we are hoping this work will help us unlock the secrets of adapting to the challenges of higher CO2 levels."
Work in the Australian Grains Free Air CO2 Enrichment program is jointly run by the State Government of Victoria and the University of Melbourne with funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the Australian Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, and the Australian Research Council.
Categorised under: Agriculture,Economic research