Honours project - Stuart Roy

Loss of crop yield due to high concentrations of Na+ and Cl- on agricultural land is a significant problem for Australian farmers.

An estimated 4.6 M ha of Australian farmland is affected to some degree by saline soils - currently 1 in 2 Western Australian farms and 1 in 5 South Australian farms are affected by salinity. By 2050 it is expected that around 14 M ha of Australian agricultural land will be affected by dryland salinity, therefore it is imperative that we identify genes and cellular processes which will increase the salinity tolerance of our crop plants.


Wheat and barley are typically thought as being salt sensitive or at best moderately salt tolerant, as they cannot accumulate high concentrations of shoot Na+ and/or Cl-. Recently we identified a wheat landrace, which can accumulate 10-fold higher concentrations of shoot Na+ while still having a good yield. With collaborators from the James Hutton Institute in the UK, we identified a similar phenomenon in barley. If this tolerance mechanism can be introduced into crop plants it would substantially help Australian growers.

We recently identified the gene responsible for the high Na+ accumulation in the wheat landrace, however, how these plants tolerate the high Na+ is still unknown. We also found that this gene has been unintentionally selected for by European barley breeders and is now in 35% of European barleys. It is hypothesised this gene has been selected for as it allows the plant to lower its leaf water potential thereby enabling the plant to extract more water from its environment – a desirable trait in the rainfed climate of Australia. Honour(s) projects in this research area will:

  1. determine the frequency of the high Na+ accumulating gene in Australian barley and wheat;
  2. determine whether this gene confers improvements in yield (greenhouse and field) in the dry Australian climate;
  3. Identify the mechanisms by which plants tolerant high shoot Na+.


Tagged in Honours projects - Agricultural science, Honours projects - Horticulture, Honours projects - Plant science, Honours projects - Molecular and biomedical science