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Understanding and engineering salinity tolerance in crop plants

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Genetics and genomics are powerful tools for gene discovery. In this talk, forward genetic approaches for discovery of genes related to salinity tolerance in wheat, barley and tomatoes will be described, as an example for approaches that could be taken for gene discovery in range of areas of plant function, in particular abiotic stresses such as drought tolerance. Rather than studying salinity tolerance as a trait in itself, we dissect salinity tolerance into a series of components that are hypothesised to contribute to overall salinity tolerance. Na+ exclusion is one such trait, for which quite a few genes have now been identified. The genotyping of mapping and mutant populations is now highly efficient. However, the ability to quantitatively phenotype these populations is now commonly limiting forward progress in plant science. The increasing power of digital imaging and computational technologies offers the opportunity to relieve this phenotyping bottleneck. The Plant AcceleratorTM is a 4500 m2 growth facility which provides -omic-scale phenotyping of large populations of plants. New genetic loci for components of salinity tolerance discovered using this new approach will be presented. The application of these technologies provides opportunities to significantly increase abiotic stress tolerance of crops, and thus contribute to increasing agricultural production in many regions. However, this needs to be tested in the field. To this end, work will be described where mapping populations are grown in the field, and also grown in the Accelerator, and loci for traits are being compared with loci for tolerance in the field.

Mark Tester is Professor of Bioscience at KAUST , Saudi Arabia. He was previously in Adelaide, where he was a Research Professor in the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and Director of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility. Mark led the establishment of this Facility, a $55m organisation that develops and delivers state-of-the-art phenotyping facilities, including The Plant Accelerator, an innovative plant growth and analysis facility. He also leads a research group in which forward and reverse genetic approaches are used to understand salinity tolerance and how to improve this in crops such as barley and tomatoes. Professor Tester was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship from Churchill College, Cambridge in 1988, a BBSRC (UK) Research Development Fellowship in 2001, and an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship in 2004. Professor Tester obtained his Bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Adelaide in 1984, and his PhD in biophysics from the University of Cambridge in 1988.

This talk is part of the Sainsbury Laboratory Seminars series.

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