Plant Sciences and Genetics : Borrowing from the past to build a better future

Wheat is one of the world's major food sources, providing about 20 percent of the calories consumed by mankind. It takes roughly1500 liters or 300 gallons of water to produce one kilo or a little over two pounds of wheat. While the world’s population continues to increase, water resources are continuing to decrease, creating more urgency in developing drought resistant strains of wheat.

Wild emmer wheat was one of the first cereals to be domesticated in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago. As it adapted and evolved under a wide range of ecological and geographical conditions, it developed a rich range of genetic traits. However, plant domestication and modern breeding methods considerably eroded this genetic diversity.

Recent advances in molecular and genomic tools enabled researchers from Institute of Plant Science and Genetics to identify and map the unique traits of ancient wheat. Their recent study, published in the Frontiers in Plant Science, described their success in reintroducing genes that were left behind during crop domestication and breeding. Their efforts to enrich the modern gene pool with essential diversity produced the first evidence that introducing specific wild emmer wheat genes can enhance productivity and drought resistance in domesticated wheat.
Prof. Yehoshua Saranga, Associate Professor of Crop Science at the Institute of Plant Science and Genetics, is heading Israel’s involvement in the European Union’s wheat research, involving 20 researchers in 10 countries. Their objective: to strengthen bread wheat and barley production by enabling the production of new varieties that require fewer fertilizer and soil additives and are health and environment friendly.

All the researchers are working on the same wheat and barley cultivars, studying their behavior under different growing conditions. The Hebrew University Faculty of Agriculture was tasked with characterizing the grains for drought tolerance. In its experimental farm, one batch of wheat is being grown with only 350 millimeters (11.8 ounces) of water, another with double that amount.

Read more on: