Growing soil salinity is one of the greatest threats to agriculture around the world. In Australia particularly, soil and dry land salinity are two major sources of environmental degradation.
An estimated two thirds of Australian soils are affected by salinity according to some experts.
“We need to move beyond the currently arable lands, to the areas which are not really highly suitable for agriculture,” says Professor Sergey Shabala of the University of Tasmania.
Researchers there have been working on developing salt resistant food crops to try and solve some of the problems linked to food security.
The research involves examining plants that tolerate salt and how they store it. Using a switching gene method, the scientists want want to develop salt-resistant plants.
“What we try to do is get that gene, just move that single gene into the new variety without changing the background of the new variety,” says Meixue Zhou, a researcher at the University of Tasmania.
Plants like barley and wheat, which are already salt-resistant, are recommended to breeders as so-called “tolerance gene donors” in order to create truly salt-tolerant genotypes.
Scientists are confident the development of salt-resistant plants is only a few years away. They say it is just a question of time before crops are grown in salt marshes or in areas with high salinity levels.