Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 064 September-October 2006 - North
French connection for GM salt-tolerance Researchers have opened an international front in the quest to develop salt- tolerant cereal varieties BY GIO BRAIDOTTI n Australian researchers are opening a new front in their ambition to genetically engineer salt-tolerance into cereals by recruiting the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) in their fight against soil salinity. CIRAD is a public-sector research organisation with a budget of 200 million euros (A$336 million) and a staff of almost 2000. Its primary mandate is to research agriculture, forestry and agrifoods to contribute to rural development in tropical and subtropical countries. The alliance was established by the GRDC-funded Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) and is supported by a grant from the Australian Government’s International Science Linkage program. The ACPFG sought the partnership because the two centres have complementary skills that together can potentially fast- track efforts to construct a salinity tolerance mechanism for salt-sensitive plants – in particular, grain crops. The development phase of the project, which is expected to take two years, is using rice because this plant’s genome is easier to work with. However, should a viable gene modification (GM) strategy emerge, then Dr Alex Johnson of the ACPFG is confident that the genetic similarities between cereal genomes should allow wheat and barley to be modified comparatively quickly – in as little as six to 12 months. He adds that the project may also help point the way for conventional breeding efforts to produce non-GM varieties of salt-tolerant cereals. Of particular interest to the Australian researchers is CIRAD’s library of rice ‘enhancer-trap’ lines that help to identify DNA sequences – called enhancer elements – which restrict gene expression to specific parts of a plant or to a stage of development. Dr Johnson explains: “Traditionally the way transgenic (genetically modified) plants were made involved taking a gene of interest and expressing it throughout the entire plant. “However, researchers found that the transgenic strategy, particularly for improving salinity tolerance, was not always effective. What we want to move towards is expressing genes in particular cell types of the plant, especially those of the roots.” Dr Johnson and colleague Dr Mark Tester were involved with the creation of CIRAD’s enhancer-trap lines library prior to joining ACPFG. Under the collaborative project, French researchers are providing the enhancer-trap lines and the Australian team is supplying 10 newly-discovered genes, from both plants and bacteria, that encode proteins capable of transporting salt out of living tissue. The Australians want to introduce the genes into cereals but restrict gene expression to the relevant parts of a plant using the rice library. The new gene set is on its way to Montpellier, France, where throughout 2007, CIRAD plans to generate more than 1000 GM rice plants in their greenhouse facilities. Seed will return to Australia for evaluation in 2008. The test for increased salt tolerance will be decreased levels of salt in the plant shoot, which will show that the roots have successfully lowered any salinity incursion. “Overall, the partnership should strengthen international collaborations and improve the ACPFG’s ability to access international funds from agencies like HarvestPlus and the Generation Challenge Program,” Dr Johnson says. “Nationally, the project could help raise the profile of rice research and demonstrate why it is such an important model system for improving all cereals.” GRDC Research Code ACP00001 More information: Dr Alex Johnson, 08 8303 7162, email@example.com SEPTEMBER -- OCTOBER 2006 GROUND COVER 15 Salinity www.dunstanfarmers.com.au AWARD WINNING COMPANY Grain Growers and Contractors Field and Chaser Bins Manufactures of the well known Dunstan Farmers Mobile Field and Chaser Bins • Australia-wide delivery • Quality • Reliability • Maintain value • Back-up service • Investment in the future • Many optional extras available • Sizes to suit small to larger operators Proudly AUSTRALIAN 9432 Murray Valley Hwy, Kerang VIC 3579 Ph: (03) 5452 1488 AH: Arthur Turner on: 0429 608 778 Salt tolerance researchers Dr Olivier Cotsaftis (left) and Dr Alex Johnson stand in front of some rice 'enhancer- trap' lines: should a viable GM strategy emerge, wheat and barley will follow. 'What we want to move towards is expressing genes in particular cell types of the plant, especially those of the roots'
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