Barley Yields expected to increase through a genetic solution

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Research is promising to find a successful strategy to mitigate heat damage and result in higher grain fertility and grain yield

Research to reduce losses from heat stress are being carried out by Dr Camilla Hill from Murdoch University – shown here preparing barley seeds for analysis by a SeedCount Analysis System to determine the effects of heat stress – photo Evan Collis

Barley growers are solid devotees of the grain and for season 2021-22 production is forecast to increase marginally over last year to reach the second highest on record of 13.3 million tonnes, 2% below the previous record set in 2016–17.

However, a changing climate has made heat stress an inevitable risk to barley yields, but there’s optimism a genetic solution could be at hand to preserve productivity.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation’s (GRDC) capacity building investment has supported the work of Dr Camilla Hill, who is investigating the practical application of genetics to plant breeding. Dr Hill is currently working on a GRDC investment in conjunction with Murdoch University’s Western Crop Genetics Alliance, which aims to identify genes that infer heat tolerance in barley varieties and deliver new genetic resources to Australian barley breeders.

“The information we’ve collected will allow the identification of new markers to breed barley varieties with enhanced spikelet fertility under heat stress,” Dr Hill said.

Glasshouse trials, combined with heat chambers and field studies have been conducted using 500 barley varieties from around the world.

Dr Hill’s work has involved testing these barley varieties to analyse how they’re affected by heat stress – looking at key stress indicators such as grain plumpness, thousand kernel weight and screening.

“We’ve found that in both the glasshouse and the field, earlier-flowering genetics were successful strategies to mitigate heat damage and resulted in higher grain fertility, grain yield and grain quality traits,” Dr Hill said.

“More than 7000 genetic variants across 132 spikelet fertility and heat-tolerance-related genes have been identified throughout the projects.”

The genetic material and molecular tools from Dr Hill’s work will provide new resources for breeding for best phenology adaption, high grain yield, high spikelet fertility and improved heat tolerance.

GRDC Senior Regional Manager – West, Peter Bird, said supporting the work of up-and-coming researchers like Dr Hill was vital for building future capacity in the Australian grains industry.

“To deliver world-class grains research, development and extension, the Australian grains industry needs to attract and nurture the world’s best talent,” he added.