With the world's population expected to reach nine billion by 2050 and hotter, drier conditions due to climate change, researchers are racing against time to develop new crop varieties and to ensure there will be enough food to feed the planet.
Two PhD research projects at The University of Western Australia have yielded important information about how some plants adapt to both drought and heat at the flowering stage.
The findings could lead to a rapid way to identify which plant genotypes protect their flower parts from hot dry weather, and help ensure grain production even in areas which experience less rain and higher temperatures. The research was published in recent issues of Functional Plant Biology (drought research) and The Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science (heat research).
Lead author of the paper in Functional Plant Biology, Ms Yi Ming Guo - who is on a UWA travel scholarship at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany - is a PhD candidate in UWA's School of Plant Biology and The UWA Institute of Agriculture. With her PhD supervisors at UWA, she studied the leaves and flowers of a common plant family, Brassica, which is renowned for its diversity of species and contribution to the world's mustard and canola oil markets, and vegetable production.
The team found that some genotypes tolerate drought better than others because they have mechanisms to protect their reproductive organs against water deficit. They also discovered that measuring floral bud temperature was far less time-consuming and non-destructive than traditional ways of assessing drought stress in plants.
UWA researcher Annisa, lead author of the paper in The Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science, was supported by UWA's School of Plant Biology and The UWA Institute of Agriculture and by an Australian Development Scholarship Award. She is now working at Padjadjaran University in Indonesia.
With her UWA supervisors, she found genetic variation for heat tolerance in Brassica rapa seed formation and seed yield. They discovered that a leafy vegetable type of Brassica rapa from Indonesia was the most tolerant of high temperatures during flowering, followed by an oilseed type from Pakistan.
Both projects will provide useful information for the breeding of drought and heat-resistant canola, which is part of the brassica family. Both projects are supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant, with industry partners COGGO Ltd (a WA grower group) and NPZ Lembke, a German plant breeding company.