Scientists at Heriot-Watt University have identified a gene responsible for drought resistance in barley. Publishing the results of nearly five years of work in the Journal of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, the team demonstrated that gene HvMYB1 controls stress tolerance in cereals such as barley. This is the first time HvMYB1 has been associated with drought resistance.

Dr Peter Morris from the Institute of Earth and Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University conceived the research idea. He successfully secured funding and led the project team. Dr Morris said: “This is a significant finding that will allow more drought resistance crops to be bred in the future. Drought is already impacting yields with the European cereals harvest hit particularly hard in 2018. A prolonged, dry and hot summer significantly impacted yields and quality.”

Barley has over 39,000 genes, almost double the number for humans, so characterizing one particular gene which promotes drought resistance has been a considerable challenge. By increasing the expression of this particular gene in test plants and simulating drought conditions, they have been able to prove that plants in which HvMYB1 is more prominently expressed are able to survive prolonged periods of drought.

Genetic variation is essential in plant breeding for resilience so we expect this research will now be used by plant breeders as a marker for drought resistance. It will help focus attention on different barley varieties in which this gene is naturally expressed more prominently. This may lead to greater variation in the gene pool of crop plants and more drought resistant crops in future years.

The research was funded by the Scotch Whisky Association, which aims to secure the sustainability of the Scotch whisky industry, and Interface, which matches businesses with Scotland’s world-leading academic expertise.

 

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Heriot-Watt University

Northern Ag Network

2019

 

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