Grains and Biotechnology
Australia is a major producer and exporter of grains to the world. The gross value of production (GVP) for the grains (cereal pulses and oilseeds) industry for 2010-2011 was estimated at $12.1 billion, while the value of grain exports was estimated at $9.1 billion. Wheat is the most valuable crop, representing 58 percent of the total GVP, followed by barley and canola.
Victoria produces 17 percent of Australia's winter grain production in cereals (wheat, barley and oats), pulses (field peas, lentils, chick peas and faba beans) and oilseeds (canola). Canola is the predominant oilseed grown in Victoria, and accounts for around 22 percent of national oilseed production.
The grains industry is responsive to the changing needs of domestic and overseas markets. For example, grain is increasingly being segregated according to the requirements of specific markets, and breeding programs are aiming to produce grains for particular value-added markets. Biotechnology developments are providing powerful and precise tools by which variety development can be accelerated, thus greatly enhancing the cost-effectiveness of the breeding process.
DEDJTR scientists are contributing to a national project that aims to identify molecular markers and implementation strategies that can be used in selecting for quality, disease resistance, physiological and agronomic traits in wheat. For example, molecular markers are being used to develop wheat cultivars resistant to cereal cyst nematode. Screening for resistance to this pest is costly and cumbersome.
Marker-assisted selection enables plant breeders to select for the relevant resistance genes far more effectively while avoiding the selection of undesirable traits that may be carried by the donor wheat varieties. This particular technology will be used in DEDJTR's wheat breeding program. Further research is being conducted on the development of methodologies to genetically modify wheat. This research is currently in the laboratory phase.
DEDJTR scientists are involved in an international research network that is analysing the genetic mechanisms behind resistance to a series of fungal diseases in lentils, field peas and chickpeas. For example, molecular markers for different resistance genes are being used by scientists working to 'fast track' the release of new chickpea varieties that are resistant to a devastating disease known as ascochyta blight. This work will make it possible to combine the most useful genes to make resistant plants more durable, with less chance of more virulent new pathogens evolving.
DEDJTR scientists are implementing strategies to identify molecular markers that can be used in selecting for important quality traits in canola. For example, molecular markers are being used to develop canola that is resistant to blackleg disease.
DEDJTR is also providing breeding and field testing services to technology companies under commercial contracts to develop genetically modified herbicide-tolerant canola. This work involves cross-breeding to introduce the genetically modified herbicide-tolerance traits into elite Australian cultivars. The resultant genetically modified varieties are owned by the companies.
DEDJTR is also developing genetically modified canola cultivars with drought, pest and disease resistance as well as improved yield and quality.
Collaborators and partners in grain biotechnology research
- Grains Research and Development Corporation
- Joint Centre for Crop Improvement, University of Melbourne
- Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Canada
- La Trobe University
- International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, Syria