Crumb Trail
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Thursday, January 19, 2006

One of the key issues in ag is growing locally adapted cultivars, those that grow well in local conditions with local agronomic practices. The timing of maturity - switching from vegetative growth to flowering and setting seed - is an important part of that. It needs to happen at the right time to match temperature and moisture conditions, and it needs to happen uniformly across the field in most cases to facilitate efficient harvest.

Local adaptation is primarily genetic. New capabilities for identifying desired genes speeds up the development of cultivars since new crosses can be evaluated without needing to grow them out. Researchers have found the "maturity gene" for barley.

Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have identified the gene in barley that controls how the plant responds to seasonal changes in the length of the day. This is key to understanding how plants have adapted their flowering behaviour to different environments.

The John Innes Centre researchers have discovered that the Ppd-H1 gene in barley controls the timing of the activity of another gene called CO. When the length of the day is long enough CO activates one of the key genes that triggers flowering. Naturally occurring variation in Ppd-H1 affects the time of day when CO is activated. This shifts the time of year that the plant flowers.

The most interesting and useful consequence of deep knowledge about the genetics of crop plants is an improved ability to develop cultivars for different parts of the world that combine good yield, disease resistance and uniform development with maturity timing suited to localities. The developing world with its growing population and consequent need for increased production using fewer inputs and less land needs these cultivars. But that's not the spin we hear these days.
Dr David Laurie, the research leader at the John Innes Centre, said, "Growing crops will become more difficult as the global climate changes. The varieties of crops grown in the UK are suited to the soil, seasons and traditional cool, wet summers. Later flowering in barley means it has a longer growing period to amass yield. If British summers get hotter and drier we will need types of wheat, barley and other crops that flower earlier, like Mediterranean varieties, to beat summer droughts. However, new varieties will need to be adapted in all other ways to UK conditions. "

With the new knowledge about the workings of barley researchers and plant breeders will find it easier to select variations that will thrive in the UK environment but will also flower earlier, coping with hotter summers.

The climate change bogey seems to have dulled the social mind.

posted by back40 | 1/19/2006 09:08:00 AM


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