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British-Australian researchers grow salt tolerant plants

03.08.2009

Adelaide/Cambridge - A British-Australian team of scientists has developed salt tolerant plants using a new type of genetic modification (GM). The research team has used a new GM technique to contain salt in parts of Arabidopsis thaliana where it does less damage. The work has been led by researchers from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics(ACPFG) and the University of Adelaide's School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK.
"Salinity affects the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one third of the world's food is produced. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse, as pressure to use less water increases and quality of water decreases," says the team's leader, Mark Tester, from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide and the ACPFG. The results of their work are published in the science journal "The Plant Cell" (advance online publication, 7 July 2009).
Tester says his team used the technique to keep salt – such as sodium ions (Na+) - out of the leaves of a model plant species. The researchers modified genes specifically around the plant's water conducting pipes (xylem) so that salt is removed from the transpiration stream before it gets to the shoot. "This reduces the amount of toxic Na+ building up in the shoot and so increases the plant's tolerance to salinity," Tester says. "In doing this, we've enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimise the movement of Na+ to the shoot. We've used genetic modification to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do - but to do it much better." The team is now in the process of transferring this technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley.

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