Tag Archives: Durum

Meet Giorgia, the durum breeding team’s newest member

"Giorgia" with Fil Ciancio (San Remo Macaroni Ltd), Dr Jason Able (Senior Lecturer in Plant Breeding & Southern Node Leader Durum Breeding Australia) and Brondwen MacLean (GRDC Senior Manager Breeding Programs).

“Giorgia” with Fil Ciancio (San Remo Macaroni Ltd), Dr Jason Able (Senior Lecturer in Plant Breeding & Southern Node Leader Durum Breeding Australia) and Brondwen MacLean (GRDC Senior Manager Breeding Programs).

The University of Adelaide’s durum breeding program officially launched their new, state-of-the-art small plot harvester yesterday.

“Giorgia” is a Wintersteiger DELTA, specifically designed for harvesting small experimental plots and can comfortably harvest more than 15,000 breeding trial plots per year. This machine is a significant new investment for the southern node of Durum Breeding Australia, which is part of the University of Adelaide.

Dr Jason Able, Senior Lecturer in Plant Breeding & Southern Node Leader Durum Breeding Australia, said “The new DELTA has significant new capabilities including on-board weighing, which will dramatically speed up the process of harvesting and downstream processes associated with the annual harvest. This will make our breeding program more efficient, and allow the breeding team back at base to get samples ready for quality testing in a quicker time frame than what was previously possible.”

The new machine has been christened “Giorgia”, a name which originates from Latin and means ‘Earth-worker, farmer’. Jason said that in naming the machine, he wanted her to be connected to the land, and this name was identified being very appropriate given also that the breeding program has a well developed collaborative relationship with San Remo Macaroni Pty Ltd which has very strong Italian heritage links.

"Giorgia" with Fil Ciancio (San Remo Macaroni Ltd), Dr Jason Able (Senior Lecturer in Plant Breeding & Southern Node Leader Durum Breeding Australia) and Brondwen MacLean (GRDC Senior Manager Breeding Programs).

“Giorgia” with Fil Ciancio (San Remo Macaroni Ltd), Dr Jason Able (Senior Lecturer in Plant Breeding & Southern Node Leader Durum Breeding Australia) and Brondwen MacLean (GRDC Senior Manager Breeding Programs).

Jason added “San Remo have contributed a significant financial contribution to the durum program over a number of years, and continue to do so. They see the value in being able to inject these much needed funds to a breeding program that ultimately supports their business through the development and release of new, improved durum varieties that are suitable for their very high quality pasta products.”

Adelaide joins with Italy to develop ‘super spaghetti’


University of Adelaide researchers are working with colleagues in Italy to produce better quality pasta that also adds greater value to human health.

Two research projects – being conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University’s Waite Campus – will start next month in collaboration with researchers from the Italian universities of Bari and Molise.

The aim of the ARC Centre of Excellence is to look at the fundamental role of cell walls (biomass) in plants and discover how they can be better utilised. Both of these new projects will investigate key aspects of the cell walls in
durum wheat, which is commonly used for making pasta.

The first project, in conjunction with the University of Bari, will investigate how the growth of durum wheat affects
the levels of starch and dietary fibre within it, and how the fibre levels in pasta can be improved. The second
project, in conjunction with the University of Molise, will investigate the important roles played by two major
components of dietary fibre – arabinoxylans and beta-glucans – in the quality of pasta and bread dough.

“The term ‘super spaghetti’ is beginning to excite scientists, nutritionists and food manufacturers around the world,” says Associate Professor Rachel Burton, Program Leader with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls and chief investigator on both projects.

“In simple terms, ‘super spaghetti’ means that it contains a range of potential health benefits for the consumer, such as reducing the risk of heart disease or colorectal cancer. Our research – in collaboration with our Italian colleagues – is aimed at achieving that, but we’re also looking to improve the quality of pasta as well as its health properties,” Associate Professor Burton says.

The centre’s Director, Professor Geoff Fincher, says: “These new projects highlight one of the great strengths of our Centre of Excellence, which is the ability to bring together complementary expertise and resources from across the globe to work towards a common goal. Our centre has the opportunity to address key scientific issues and produce results that are meaningful to industries and communities worldwide.”

Professor Fincher says these new projects could help pasta manufacturers in South Australia and Italy to carve a niche by supplying domestic markets with specialist pasta products that will benefit the health of consumers.

“Being able to sell high-quality South Australian durum wheat within a competitive market like Italy could bring economic benefits. Approximately 27kg of pasta is consumed per year per person in Italy, compared with just 4kg per person in Australia,” he says.

Both of these projects have received funding and support from the South Australian Government, local
governments in Italy, the University of Adelaide and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls.

This article was originally posted on the University of Adelaide news website


“Rathjen’s Revenge” Recognising Prof Tony Rathjen’s contribution to agriculture

Professor Tony Rathjen

“Rathjen’s Revenge”

Recognising Professor Tony Rathjen’s contribution to agriculture

The Waite Research Institute and the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide are hosting a retrospective and celebration of Professor Tony Rathjen’s career to recognise Tony’s contribution to the Australian wheat breeding, farming and related industries, his research and his recent elevation to Professor status.

Tony has been instrumental in establishing a strong durum industry in South Australia and released more than 20 wheat varieties in his career.

His first major bread-wheat release was Warigal in the late 1970s. During the 1980s he worked on soft wheats, releasing Molineaux, the first cereal-cyst nematode wheat. Yitpi, released in the late 1990s, had the combination of CCN resistance and boron tolerance and was very popular in areas such as the Mallee. Tony then moved into durum following a trip to Italy. Tamaroi was the first variety released from the Waite, followed by Kalka in 2003 and Tjilkuri in 2010. Varieties from Tony’s program are still being released.

Tony has been a lecturer since starting at the University of Adelaide in 1965 and recently incorporated primary production tours for students into the course to provide an understanding of industry and the environment. Tony has also set up a foundation with royalties from Yitpi to encourage and promote research and education in the fields of crop science, particularly in relation to the wheat industry in southern Australia; and social science in linguistics of Australian languages and studies of the cultures of Australian Aborigines, particularly in relation to land usage.

All collegues, current and former students, farmers and others who wish to acknowledge Tony’s “retirement” are welcome to attend.

The event will be held on Friday 14th September 2012 at the Waite Campus.

At 1.00pm in the Charles Hawker Conference Centre, seminar presentations will address challenges confronting today’s agricultural research, crop breeding and industries and provide insight to the future, as well as acknowledge the contributions, personality and successes of Tony over his 47-year long career.  Presenters on the day are Roger Leigh, Chris Preston, Dave Maschmedt, Ian McClelland, Andy Barr, and Mike Brooks.  Tony will be giving the final presentation – “Rathjen’s Revenge: The Rebuttal”.

At 4.30 pm, following the seminars, a late afternoon social event will be held at the Waite’s Lirra Lirra Cafe. For catering purposes, please register for this free event at http://rathjensrevenge.eventbrite.com/

Ancient genes and modern science deliver salt tolerant wheat

This post was first published on the Scientific American Guest Blog on the 18th of April, 2012. To go to the original article click here.

By Heather Bray and Matthew Gilliham

Ten thousand years ago, somewhere in the ‘fertile crescent’ near modern day Turkey, several small but amazing events kick-started the spread of farming, the birth of civilisation and ultimately changed the world.

Although we are still learning about the precise nature of these events, we know that at this time people began to collect seeds from local wild grasses to grow them for food, selecting the best seeds to grow in subsequent seasons. During this process of selection and cultivation the wild grasses cross-bred, or hybridised, leading to domesticated forms of ancient wheat such as einkorn and emmer. Selection and cultivation continued, giving rise to both modern bread wheat and durum wheat, used for making pasta and couscous. Wheat is now the most cultivated crop in the world and forms the staple food for 35% of the world’s population. However, thousands of years of repeated selection and crossing to obtain the best yields and quality has significantly narrowed wheat’s gene pool.

For a team of Australian researchers looking at the problem of salinity tolerance in durum wheat, the solution was clear: look at the ancestors and wild relatives of modern wheats for tolerance to salt and re-introduce these genes into modern wheat lines.

“It was some pretty big thinking about 15 years ago by our collaborators at CSIRO that started this work,” says Dr Matthew Gilliham of the University of Adelaide and the ARC Centre for Plant Energy Biology. Matthew is senior author on a paper recently published in Nature Biotechnology announcing the development of a line of durum wheat which is salt tolerant under commercial farming conditions.

A field of salt tolerant durum wheat grown in northern New South Wales, Australia, as part of a CSIRO field trial. (Richard James, CSIRO)

Salinity affects over 20% of the world’s agricultural land and is a major issue in Australia’s prime wheat-growing areas, with nearly 70% of this land susceptible to salinity. “Through the years, wheat has lost genetic diversity for things such as tolerance to harsh environmental conditions. That’s why we need to go back in time, get some genes from wild relatives and ancestors that grow in these harsh conditions and cross them back in.”

To find genes for salt tolerance, researchers from Australia’s CSIRO looked at Triticum monococcum, also known as einkorn. It is not a direct ancestor of bread wheat or durum, but it is closely related to the grasses that were, and it still grows in some parts of the world today. It can also grow in salty soil.

When the initial crosses between durum and the T. monococcum were made using traditional plant breeding methods, whole pieces of chromosomes containing thousands of genes were introduced. More years of crossing and selection were needed to reduce the number of genes from the T. monococcum in the durum lines and by 2009, researchers were trialling durum wheat lines with increased tolerance to salinity. But what where the genes and how did they work?

In salty soils, sodium ions from salt enter wheat plants via the roots. From there they enter the plant’s water-transport system from where they can be taken to the leaves. “The hypothesis we were working on is that salinity tolerance in cereal crops, especially wheat, is related to the ability to exclude sodium ions from the leaves. If you build up sodium levels in leaf cells you start to inhibit essential life processes like photosynthesis, so wheats that exclude salt from their leaves grow better in salty soils” explained Matthew.

“Our group, including researchers from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, used a range of molecular and physiological tests to work out that the important gene in this story was the sodium transporter gene TmHKT1;5-A. We worked out where the gene was turned on, and what it did. This gene makes a protein that acts as a sodium selective transporter, which prevents the sodium from entering the shoots by filtering it out at the root level, it essentially turns the roots into a sodium selective sponge. Compared to the shoots, the build up of sodium in root cells does not inhibit cellular metabolism very much at all.”

Location of the gene encoding for the ancestral sodium transporter in cells (stained blue) surrounding the xylem of modern durum wheat roots. (A. Athman, University of Adelaide)

Although the understanding of the function of the sodium transporter involved transgenic (genetic modification) techniques, the introduction of the genes into the durum lines did not, meaning that the lines of wheat could be tested under commercial conditions without going through Australia’s strict regulatory framework for genetically modified organisms.

The durum line was trialled on a variety of field sites across Southern Australia including a commercial farm near Moree in northern New South Wales, These trials were led by CSIRO researchers Richard James and Rana Munns. Farmers in this area usually harvest about 2.5 tonnes per hectare, a typical and profitable yield for broad-acre, rain-fed (non-irrigated) cropping in semi-arid areas. However, like many farms in the grain producing areas of Australia, salinity is beginning to affect yields. On this farm, a commercial durum variety and the line with the introduced sodium transporter genes had the same performance on normal soil. But at the highest salinity level, the new line outperformed the commercial variety by approximately 25%. This means farmers can use varieties developed from the improved line across their farms, even in paddocks only partly affected by salinity with a significant yield advantage over the current varieties.

“Our research is the first to show that sodium exclusion genes increase grain yield in the field” said Matthew, which is why the group’s work is attracting a lot of attention, including publication in the prestigious Nature Biotechnology. But the team’s work is not over yet. They have already identified other genes from ancient relatives that may be useful in improving salinity tolerance further, highlighting the huge potential for improving modern wheat using the diversity already present in nature. “There are other aspects to the salt- tolerance story and more genes to identify and characterise” adds Matthew. “We haven’t solved the problem, we have just put one piece back in the puzzle.”

About the author: Dr Heather Bray is a science communicator with the Waite Research Institute and a research fellow in the School of History and Politics at the University of Adelaide. She is fascinated by both the science in agriculture and the social aspects of food production in contemporary Australia. Twitter handle: @heatherbray6

Dr Matthew Gilliham is a senior research fellow in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, supported by the ARC Centre for Plant Energy Biology. His research focuses on how plants use, transport and exclude nutrient elements and aims to develop more nutritious and productive plants tolerant to abiotic stresses. Twitter handle: @ionplants