GENETIC HUNT IN FOREIGN FIELDS HOLDS KEY TO FUTURE FOOD SUPPLY
Gareth Parker, Melbourne
The West Australian, Australia
Aug 16 2007
Armenia is a world away from the WA Wheatbelt, but Dr Ken Street
believes the farms, fields and mountainsides of the former Soviet
republic could hold the key to the world’s future food supply.
Dr Street, a 44-year-old WA expatriate who studied at the University of
WA, spends his days scouring central Asia and the Middle East looking
for rare and unusual wheat seeds. He collects them for a "gene bank"
– a sort of Noah’s Ark for grains – that could one day provide the
solution to food shortages caused by climate change, water shortages,
disease or overpopulation.
Introduced to a grains industry conference in Melbourne as the
Indiana Jones of the agricultural world, Dr Street told of his travels
throughout far-flung places like Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan
and Tajikistan in search of a natural genetic variety in wheat and
other grain plants that has been largely lost in the monocultures of
modern grain production in Australia and the rest of the western world.
Those genetic variations could hold the key to overcoming drought,
frost, salinity and disease.
"These are regions that used to be behind the Iron Curtain, so they
are areas that our breeders didn’t have access to," Dr Street said.
"Those fields are like a genetic soup." He said central Asia was a
hotbed of genetic diversity where grain crops were first domesticated
10,000 years ago.
Wheat crops cultivated by central Asian farmers were inevitably more
genetically diverse than Australian crops. In one field in Armenia
he found 34 distinctly different breeds of bread wheat.
Dr Street has collected about 5000 genetically unique seeds, both
from crops and wild grasses, for storage before they become extinct.
The hope is breeders, using emerging GM technology, can exploit the
naturally occurring variations in the unique seed samples to breed
new resistant strains that could ultimately be used for commercial
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress