Salt-tolerant rice offers hope to farmers and global food supply

Farmers may soon be able to increase their production of rice, thanks to a new method developed by the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) that increases the crop’s tolerance to salt.

Researchers at ACPFG used genetic modification (GM) technology o trap salt in the root of the rice plants, reducing the amount of toxic salt building up in the shoots and damaging the plants.

The research, published in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE, built on previous work into the salt tolerance of plants led by scientists from ACPFG, a key partner of the Waite Research Institute at the University of Adelaide. The current research was conducted in collaboration with scientists based in universities in Cairo, Copenhagen and Melbourne.

Lead author and research associate with the ACPFG, Dr Darren Plett, said the new GM technique was an "efficient and robust biotechnological approach" to helping rice grow in saline conditions.

He said rice was often grown on land prone to high levels of salinity, a problem for farmers and many people around the world who relied on the crop as their main source of food.

"Lands that accumulate salt have lower crop yields, which can threaten food supply.  This has made salinity tolerance an increasingly important factor in the efforts to secure global food production," said Dr Plett.

The research team expressed a gene to increase the number of salt-transporting proteins in specific cells in the roots of the rice plant. 
Dr Plett said the GM technology could also be used to improve the nutrient levels within rice grain.

Work is now underway to transfer the technology to wheat and barley.

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