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Saline farming - molecular breeding of salt tolerant wheat

Research project
Active research
Project owner
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences

Short description

Our major aim is to turn saline soil into productive soil to fight poverty and hunger.
Soil salinization is a serious and increasing problem. Globally ca 500 million ha are affected with reduced yields as a consequence. In some areas, the situation is so severe that the land is left fallow. This cause economic consequence that often, in developing countries, farmers can no longer feed their families but are forced to migrate to cities where they end up in slums. To turn saline soil into productive soil we need to develop saline tolerant varieties, in our case wheat. Another aim of the project is to identify molecular markers for the salt tolerance trait to facilitate breeding of the salt tolerant character.

Background

Members

At BioEnv

Henrik Aronsson (professor)
Johanna Lethin (PhD student )
Ola Nordqvist (PhD student )

Collaborators

Olof Olsson, Lund University
Mats Töpel, Department of Marine sciences, University of Gothenburg
Sameer Hassan, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm
Lal Teer Seed Ltd, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Eco Agrotech Ltd
ICCO, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Previous and current funding

Swedish Research Council (VR)/Swedish International Development Cooperation

EU Interreg NSR Saline Farmin (SalFar) project 2017-2022

Carl Trygger's Foundation 2018-2021

Agency (SIDA) 2014-2016

VINNOVA 2018-2019

More about our projects

Below we present our three main projects.

Use of brackish water to study the effect of salinized soils//National project

Dry periods are expected to increase in southern Sweden, especially from July onwards, which has been observed in recent years (2018 was a good example) both in the eastern and western parts of southern Sweden (e.g. Gotland, Öland, Halland). Drought is a major stress for plants and the yield is adversely affected if the plant is exposed to drought during the reproductive phase, as it determines how many grains are formed or during the filling phase when the grain swells and ripens.

In dry periods there is a need for fresh water, but it is not always possible because of low groundwater levels. An alternative is to use brackish water during these periods. The long term consequences for the soil and the possibility of continuing growing crops have not been clarified. As we also expect an increased challenge of salt contaminated soils due to increased sea levels in the future, it is wise to also process more salt tolerant crops than those currently available in Sweden.

We combine lab trials with field trials using find sand soil. We grow salt tolerant wheat/oats, and use brackish water for a part of the season to study the effect of a salinized soil (≥4 dS/m). With partners from Gothenburg/Lund University, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, and Ugglarps Gård we will study molecular breeding of wheat/oats, irrigation, leaching, soil structure, modeling etc., in order to understand and provide future sustainable effective farming under saline conditions.

Turn saline soil into productive soil to fight poverty and hunger/Bangladesh project

Soil salinization is a serious and increasing problem. Globally ca 500 million ha are affected with reduced yields as a consequence. In some areas, the situation is so severe that the land is left fallow. This cause economic consequence that often, in developing countries, farmers can no longer feed their families but are forced to migrate to cities where they end up in slums.

To turn saline soil into productive soil we need to develop saline tolerant varieties, in our case wheat. We have chosen Bangladesh to show proof of concept in since the challenges caused by the ongoing climate change are large there. Starting from a well-adapted local Bangladesh wheat variety BARI Gom-25 we created an ethyl methane sulphonate (EMS) based mutant population and in that way increased the genetic variation by a factor 1000. We developed an assay for salt tolerance, screened ca 2000 lines in the mutated population and identified 70 lines (OA-lines, OlsAro) with high salt tolerance (~20 dS/m). The next step is to use these OA-lines to implement and develop sustainable food production in Bangladesh on salinized soil.

Another aim of the project is to identify molecular markers for the salt tolerance trait to facilitate breeding of the salt tolerant character

Thus, we will elucidate the molecular mechanism behind the trait. The regulatory and functional genes in the wheat genome involved in adapting the plant to abiotic stress, are not fully understood. By mapping specific mutations in salt tolerant OA-lines in the wheat genome we will identify key regulatory genes that can be used as molecular markers in breeding programs.

Specific study objectives:

  1. Identify and confirm saline tolerant wheat lines using saline field conditions
  2. Identify transcription factors  as markers for salt tolerance in wheat

Saline Farming (SalFar)/North Sea Region project

In the North Sea Region (NSR), accelerated sea level rise is a shared territorial challenge. Salinization is a key driver of soil degradation in Europe and in the coming decades the pressure on traditional fresh water farming in especially NSR coastal areas will increase. Water management authorities continuously attempt to prevent further salinization by keeping salt water out of farmland. Such operations are very costly and with the predicted sea level rise, costs will increase substantially in the future. While market failure has motivated some public policy interventions like various coastal protection measures, the innovations from the private sector to develop saline agriculture is slow.

The long heat and drought period during the summer of 2018 had a major negative impact on Swedish agriculture. Assuming an increased drought tolerance of future crops, temporary periods of heat and drought can be overcome. However, when more serious long-term water shortage occurs, groundwater levels become so low that irrigation by groundwater is not an option. In such a situation there will be a need to supply brackish water to the fields. However, this is a radical step that would require both crops with properties to withstand the resulting increased soil salinity as well as a deepened knowledge of how the soils would react to irrigation with brackish water and how they can be remediated.

Read more about Saline Farming (SalFar)