New research funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) aims to give plant breeders the tools to significantly speed up the delivery of improved lupin and lentil varieties to growers.
The three-year project, conducted by the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) reduce legume breeding by at least two to three years, with the process currently taking about 10 to 12 years.
CLIMA project leader Dr Janine Croser said faster delivery of improved lupin and lentil varieties would help growers, who currently experienced unreliable yields from legumes due to factors including a drying climate, soil constraints, pests and diseases.
"These issues mean the area sown to legumes in Australia is not increasing despite the many advantages of including them in the rotation," she said.
In WA, the area seeded to lupin declined from about one million hectares in 1999 to 378,000ha in 2010, due to drought, the cost and efficacy of weed control, and lupin prices.
Pulse industry experts believe lupin plantings could increase to 500,000ha in WA if seasons and prices improve.
The area sown to lentil in WA is very small, but 158,000ha was sown in South Australia and Victoria in 2010.
Dr Croser said although breeders were continually improving their germplasm and breeding processes, the legume improvement effort was hampered as only two to three generation cycles – or plant lifecycles – were currently possible per year.
"Between six and eight generations are required in self-pollinating crops, after a cross, before fixation of traits is achieved and the genotype can be released as a cultivar," she said.
"The aim of this project, funded by the Grain Research and Development Corporation is to develop two laboratory-based techniques to accelerate lupin and lentil generation turnover and the quicker delivery of improved cultivars to growers.
"Plants resulting from both techniques will be identical to those developed from conventional breeding, and will not be genetically modified."
Dr Croser said one of the techniques the Centre hoped to develop for use in lupin and lentil breeding included the ‘double haploid' technique, which was already used to accelerate canola and cereal breeding.
"We are confident this technique can be applied to legumes such as lupin and lentil breeding, following recent breakthroughs achieved by CLIMA and international collaborators in using the method for chickpea and field pea breeding," she said.
Dr Croser said successful application of the ‘double haploid' technique to lupin and lentil would result in new varieties being released as quickly as four to five years after desirable traits were first identified, although the process would usually take longer.
She said the other technique that the Centre aimed to develop was ‘in vitro single seed descent' involving using plant growth regulators and optimising conditions to induce faster flowering and seed set.
"The seed is retrieved well before maturity, germinated and returned to culture, and then the process is repeated," Dr Croser said.
She said if CLIMA successfully developed the techniques to accelerate lupin and lentil breeding, the methods would be used by Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA) lupin breeder Dr Bevan Buirchell, of the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) and PBA lentil breeder Dr Michael Materne, of the Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
Caption: CLIMA project leader Janine Croser, left, and CLIMA senior research technician Kylie Edwards inspect lupin plants in the glasshouse.