Old Wheat Genes Find Timely Favour

Philip Hopkins

The Age, Australia
Aug 7 2007

WHEAT varieties in the Middle East and Central Asia, where the crop
originated, have enormous potential to revitalise the Australian
grains industry, according to an Australian researcher.

Ken Street, who is based in Syria, said there was much genetic material
from Central Asian wheat varieties that were immediately relevant to
the Australian grains sector.

"The region, dry like Australia, is the obvious place to look for
genes that confer traits like frost and drought tolerance," he said.

"There is little genetic material from there in Australian wheat
genealogy. The genetic base of Australian wheat is comparatively
narrow, coming from Western Europe."

Dr Street, 44, a specialist in genetic resource conservation, was
speaking in Melbourne on the eve of the Agriculture Australia 2007
conference, where he will deliver a paper.

Dr Street, who studied at the University of Western Australia, is a
scientist with the International Centre for Agricultural Research in
Dry Areas (ICARDA).

The centre receives funding from a variety of sources, including the
World Bank, the Australian Government and the Grains Research and
Development Corporation (GRDC), the Australian industry’s research arm.

Dr Street said the preservation of these ancient genes was also
crucial to fight the diseases that destroy crop varieties. "Our crops
are genetically uniform, they have a narrow genetic base, they don’t
have the capacity to respond to these threats," he said.

Dr Street said evolution relied on genetic diversity. "We need a
continual source of new genes. The most sensible place to look is
where those genes evolved in the first place – that’s where you find
the maximum genetic diversity," he said.

These areas – Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan)
and the Caucasus (Armenia), previously inaccessible during the Cold
War – are where Dr Street is collecting his research material.

The resources include wild grasses and progenitors (more advanced
relatives). With the threat of climate change, Dr Street said
dealing with a drier climate was becoming more important. "We have
to respond. The only way we can respond is through breeding. To breed
wheat we need genes, that’s the raw material," he said.

Dr Street said this approach would also include the genetic
modification of crops – but there was no clear path to the market in
Australia for GM.

Dr Street’s visit coincides with the release of the GRDC publication
FutureCrop, which looks at GM and non-GM ways to create new healthier
and value-added crops.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS