When the current moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops is lifted, The University of Western Australia (UWA) has GM lupin lines with superior seed quality and yield readily available for wider testing and evaluation in the WA grainbelt.
According to UWA Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis Director, Professor Craig Atkins, sustaining cereal production through rotating legumes drove the UWA GM lupin breeding program, which commenced in 1992.
“We developed a very successful genetic engineering program for narrow-leafed lupin, including herbicide (Basta®) and bean yellow mosaic virus (BYMV) resistant varieties,” he said.
“Narrow-leafed lupin is Australia’s major pulse crop, with around one million hectares planted and more than 90 per cent of that in WA.
“It is the best adapted pulse for deep, coarse-textured, sandy, acid soils in the grainbelt, yielding on average one tonne per hectare and significantly contributing to subsequent wheat, barley and canola crops due to its residual nitrogen and other benefits,” Professor Atkins said.
However, lupins are prone to severe yield restriction as a consequence of fungal and viral diseases and conventional breeding has progressively introduced significant resistance levels.
The Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) operated as a Co-operative Research Centre transformation facility at UWA from 1992 to 1999, engineering GM lupin lines to introduce resistance to herbicides and viral and fungal diseases, with promising results for BYMV resistance.
“Three lines carrying this synthetic resistance gene are immune to BYMV infection, but are still in the early stages of development, with further testing needed to confirm their resistance,” Professor Atkins said.
Another limitation to narrow-leafed lupin yield potential is inadequate and incomplete weed control, particularly of annual ryegrass.
“The first group of BASTA® resistant GM lupins was developed in 1993 and narrow-leafed lupin field trials for BASTA® resistant lines in the Merrit variety were initiated in 1996 in partnership with the Grains Research and Development Corporation and continued until 1998,” Professor Atkins said.
“One line selected for possible commercial development had a very high level of herbicide resistance, out yielded the parent cultivar Merrit and showed no change in grain composition.
“Unfortunately, commercial development was blocked due to intellectual property restrictions at that time,” he said.
Other CLIMA experiments reduced flower abortion and improved yield stability, altered plant architecture and patterns and improved seed development rates and grain composition.
“More recently, in collaboration with Canberra CSIRO Plant Industry colleagues, we sought to improve grain quality, specifically protein content, by introducing the sunflower seed albumin (SSA) gene.”
Methods developed for narrow-leafed lupin genetic transformations were modified and successfully used to transform a range of other pulse crops, including chickpea, lentil, field pea,
faba bean and albus lupin.
“A number of these methods are continuing as research projects to determine their use as possible sources of traits for lupin improvement,” Professor Atkins said.
The UWA Institute of Agriculture Director, Professor Kadambot Siddique said seedstocks of all GM lupin lines generated through CLIMA and since have been maintained in secure PC2 storage at UWA.
“Although limited field trials can be conducted, perceived public disquiet about transgenic plants, along with the State Government moratorium on commercial scale trials and therefore the inability to release new lines, has reduced funding for GM lupin research,” he said.
”The programs that existed have now been scaled back to almost nothing.
“However, with renewed global and Australian interest in GM crops, it’s time we revived research and development on GM lupin traits of economic significance to WA’s farming community,” Professor Siddique said.
Professor Craig Atkins 61 8 6488 2262
Professor Kadambot Siddique 61 8 6488 7012
0411 155 396