Ancient genetics (AGENT): Capturing signatures of nutrient stress tolerance from extant landraces to unlock the production potential of marginal lands

Exploiting ancient Bere barley gene pools to improve the ability of barley to acquire and utilize nutrients from the soil more efficiently.

Climate change, degradation of arable lands and increasing demand for food from population growth are expected to increase the need to produce on marginal soils with inherent nutrient limitations. Barley with its better adaptation to stress is likely to become an even more important cereal for production in such conditions. Recent results have demonstrated an unprecedented capacity of Northern European barley landraces, particularly Bere barley, to tolerate marginal soils and acquire micronutrients, including manganese (Mn), copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) when compared to modern elite varieties.

The goal of this project is to exploit ancient Bere barley gene pools to improve the ability of barley to acquire and utilize nutrients from the soil more efficiently. We aim to advance knowledge of the genetic and biochemical responses involved in adaptation to nutrient limitation beyond the existing state-of-the-art. This will be achieved by bridging disciplines of plant genetics and plant nutrition, and by studying an intercross population to capture the adaptive traits, not only by unravelling functions of individual genes, but also by studying the compensatory adjustments at the transcriptome and molecular physiology levels, preserved in the landraces but seemingly lost from modern elite cultivars.

The project will deliver quantitative information and a predictive understanding of nutrient stress tolerance and will provide new breeding material, which will be key to maximizing agricultural production in marginal soils.

Project leader: Dr Joanne Russell, James Hutton Institute.

Funding: EU H2020