Researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have identified a genetic mutation in barley that actually increases crop yield in saline conditions. The results were published online on September 2, 2016 in Science Reports. The pen-access article is titled “Yield-Related Salinity Tolerance Traits Identified in a Nested Association Mapping (NAM) Population of Wild Barley.” Our capacity to feed the world’s growing population will be greatly improved by developing crops able to tolerate higher soil salinity and salt water irrigation. KAUST researchers are leading the quest to pinpoint the genetic controls of salt tolerance in crops, and recently completed the first large-scale genetic mapping study of barley plants in the field. Dr. Mark Tester, Dr. Stephanie Saade, and co-workers at KAUST’s Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering Division chose barley as their genetic model because it is the most salt tolerant of the cereal crops. They also had access to high-quality genome sequencing data for a European strain called Barke, which they used as the mother line for their field study. “We used a ‘nested association mapping’ (NAM) population of barley plants,” explains Tester. “A NAM is a series of small populations with one line constant across them. In our NAM, the common mother line, Barke, represented about 75 percent of the genome of each plant. We used 25 different father lines; strains of wild barley from fertile Arabian areas known to exhibit higher salt tolerance than commercial strains.” This carefully-designed genetic structure (developed by collaborator Klaus Pillen, University of Halle) brought together high genetic diversity from the 25 fathers, whilst remaining statistically powerful because of the constant mother line.
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