19 December 2011

University of Queensland scientists have discovered that an ancient relative of rice contains genes that could potentially save food crops from the devastating effects of global warming.

In a report, published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS)*, it has been shown that wild rice plants in hotter and drier parts of Australia tend to be more genetically diverse.

Professor Robert Henry from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), who led the research team, said there were global implications for this discovery.

"This finding will be useful in selecting crop varieties that can cope with a variable and changing climate," he said.

The genetic diversity found by the scientists is seen as a bulwark against climate change because some genes offer plants a degree of resistance to bacterial and fungal pathogens, both of which are known to attack plants under stress.

In a study conducted over more than 238 km of remote landscape, researchers from QAAFI and Southern Cross University compared wild cereal relatives growing in Australia with those found in the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture began in the cradle of civilisation.

The Fertile Crescent is a geographical region that stretches more than 2000 km from the Nile in Egypt to the waters of the Persian Gulf in the west.

The wild rice research project is a collaboration with Professor Eviatar Nevo from the Institute for Evolution in Israel, which used recent advances in DNA-sequencing technology to examine the genetics of wild-plant populations on a large scale.

* Genome diversity in wild grasses under environmental stress, PNAS, December 27, 2011, vol. 108 no. 52, 21139-21144

QAAFI background

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) is a scientific research institute of The University of Queensland (UQ), which was formed through an alliance between UQ and the Queensland Government's Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI). QAAFI draws together 100 research teams specialising in plant, animal and food sciences from 11 UQ and DEEDI sites across Queensland. For more information visit www.qaafi.uq.edu.au

About QAAFI Director, Prof. Robert Henry

Professor Henry has written and edited several books on plant molecular biology and product quality and published more than 200 peer reviewed scientific papers and more than 500 national and international conference papers. He was made a fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) in 1993, was Chair of the, RACI, Cereal Chemistry Division and received the Guthrie Award in 2000. He is a senior editor of the "Plant Biotechnology Journal" (Wiley - Blackwell Publishing Ltd), Associate Editor of "Conservation Genetics" (Springer Science), and a member of the Australian Research Council, College of Experts and the Plant Breeders Rights Advisory Committee.

Media: Professor Robert Henry: Tel: (07) 3346 0552, International: +61 7 3346 0552

QAAFI Communications: Tel: (07) 3346 0553, International: +61 7 3346 0553, Mob: 0417 425 510