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Breeders Given Tools to Reduce Grain Defects

20 October 2011

AUSTRALIA - Australian wheat breeders have been equipped with new tools to assist the development of varieties which, at harvest, are less likely to be downgraded in quality due to grain defects.

Research funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has produced new germplasm, screening methods and selection tools to speed up the production of varieties less susceptible to pre-harvest sprouting, late-maturity alpha-amylase (LMA) and black point (BP).

In seasons with extreme damage, sprouting and black point can cost Australian growers hundreds of millions of dollars.

LMA is genetic defect which, like sprouting, may be triggered by environmental conditions and results in the production of alpha-amylase - an enzyme which can degrade grain starch - measured by ‘falling number’ tests at delivery.

But unlike sprouting, there is no physical evidence of the defect on the grain itself.

University of Adelaide ‘pre-breeders’, under a GRDC project, have developed new screening processes which are helping plant breeders eliminate LMA.

LMA screening is now an important step in variety classification and has greatly reduced the risk that new varieties posing a high risk would be released to growers.

“This is significant because LMA has traditionally been very difficult to screen for and get rid of,” University of Adelaide Associate Professor Daryl Mares said.

He said screening for sprouting and black point had also been difficult and expensive.

“However, in collaboration with local and international researchers, the projects based at the University of Adelaide have identified genetic material which influences these defects, and developed new molecular marker tools,” Associate Professor Mares said.

“These tools will speed up the time it takes for breeders to identify wheat lines with enhanced resistance to sprouting and black point and which have greatly reduced risk of LMA.

“This is because molecular screening can be conducted by breeders in the laboratory, free from the complicating effects of environmental factors associated with field testing.”

Associate Professor Mares said the results of the ‘grain defects’ research would significantly reduce the incidence and severity of defects at harvest in the future, as better varieties became available to growers.

“This will in turn lead to reduced risk and increased or more reliable returns for growers, and flow-on benefits for the marketing of Australian wheat,” he said.

Under new GRDC-funded research projects, pre-breeding research into grain defects is continuing at the University of Adelaide.

TheCropSite News Desk

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