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Gene Modifying Salt-Loving Plants May Be The Key To Sustainable Food Production

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

An Australian-led opinion article has proposed a new concept for breeding salt-tolerant plants to help with global efforts for sustainable food production.

Decades of plant breeding for salinity tolerance have failed to deliver a breakthrough but the authors propose a new method based on existing salt loving plants.

Farmland is vanishing in part because the salinity in the soil is rising as a result of climate change and other man-made phenomena.

In an Opinion article in the Cell Press journal Trends in Plant Sciences, researchers propose a new concept for breeding salt- tolerant plants as a way to contribute to global efforts for sustainable food production.

“We suggest that we should learn from nature and do what halophytes, or naturally salt-loving plants, are doing: taking up salt but depositing it in a safe place — external balloon-like structures called salt bladders,” says Professor Sergey Shabala, of the University of Tasmania.

Soil salinity is claiming about 3 hectares of usable land from conventional crop farming every minute.

This costs the agricultural sector billions of dollars each year and jeopardizes the ability to meet the target of feeding 9.3 billion people by 2050.

Dr. Shabala and his colleagues note that recent research on salt bladders creates the possibility of modifying genes in traditional crops such as wheat or rice to allow them to develop salt bladders without a major impact on their growth and yield.

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