Barley breeders across Australia will soon be able to tailor crops to maximise yield, quality and environmental tolerance thanks to $1.2 million in funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
The investment will fund genetic research and the development of user-friendly tools for genomics-assisted breeding. These are scheduled for release to breeders and growers in late 2020.
Murdoch University researchers led by Professor Chengdao Li will join an international consortium working to better understand the barley genome.
Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Hon. David Littleproud announced the funding on Thursday 8 November.
Barley is a vital crop for Western Australia, delivering the State more than $1 billion in export grain and malt earnings.
The new tools developed by the International Barley Pan Genome Sequencing Consortium will help barley breeders and researchers to directly access genetic information that is associated with key agronomic and quality traits.
The consortium will enable the Australian breeders and researchers to leverage access to barley genomic diversity from European, North American and Asian countries. The framework from the consortium can be used to map new barley genome sequences rapidly and cheaply.
Translating barley research
Professor Li said the project was a significant step in translating barley genetic research into a practical tool to boost the Australian barley industry.
“This will deliver benefits to barley farmers right across Australia by helping the development of future varieties that are more tolerant to extreme conditions like drought and of higher quality and yield,” Professor Li said.
“We first successfully mapped the barley reference genome in 2017, but this project will further expand our knowledge of the enormous differences in the genetic code of barley varieties and how these differences related to extreme environmental adaptation, disease resistance, better yield and quality.
“Traits that improve grain yield and quality are controlled by multiple genes impacted by environmental factors. It’s very complicated to unravel, but this investment will help us to develop a tool which does this cost effectively for breeders. It will be a very important tool for the future development of barley lines with these traits.”
Minister Littleproud said: “Aussie farmers already do well in tough conditions and this work will make our industry even stronger.
“This partnership will put the world’s best on the job to find crops better suited to our environment.”
Professor Li is also the Director of Murdoch’s Western Barley Genetic Alliance (WBGA), which is a partnership between Murdoch and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, supported by the GRDC.The WBGA was a major contributor to research which mapped the complete barley genome in April 2017.
Murdoch University's Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation David Morrison said that establishing 'omics' capacity, which is a way to quickly identify all the genes, proteins and metabolites present in a biological sample, was a key strategy for the University.
“We work closely with the GRDC to make sure delivery of tangible benefits to the Australian barley growers using the omics technologies. The success of the barley genome and pan-genome projects is the testimony of the University strategy," Professor Morrison said.