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J Exp Bot. 2006;57(5):1059-78. Epub 2006 Mar 2.

Use of wild relatives to improve salt tolerance in wheat.

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  • 1CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.


There is considerable variability in salt tolerance amongst members of the Triticeae, with the tribe even containing a number of halophytes. This is a review of what is known of the differences in salt tolerance of selected species in this tribe of grasses, and the potential to use wild species to improve salt tolerance in wheat. Most investigators have concentrated on differences in ion accumulation in leaves, describing a desirable phenotype with low leaf Na+ concentration and a high K+/Na+ ratio. Little information is available on other traits (such as "tissue tolerance" of accumulated Na+ and Cl-) that might also contribute to salt tolerance. The sources of Na+ "exclusion" amongst the various genomes that make up tetraploid (AABB) durum wheat (Triticum turgidum L. ssp. durum), hexaploid (AABBDD) bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L. ssp. aestivum), and wild relatives (e.g. Aegilops spp., Thinopyrum spp., Elytrigia elongata syn. Lophopyrum elongatum, Hordeum spp.) are described. The halophytes display a capacity for Na+ "exclusion", and in some cases Cl- "exclusion", even at relatively high salinity. Significantly, it is possible to hybridize several wild species in the Triticeae with durum and bread wheat. Progenitors have been used to make synthetic hexaploids. Halophytic relatives, such as tall wheatgrass spp., have been used to produce amphiploids, disomic chromosome addition and substitution lines, and recombinant lines in wheat. Examples of improved Na+ "exclusion" and enhanced salt tolerance in various derivatives from these various hybridization programmes are given. As several sources of improved Na+ "exclusion" are now known to reside on different chromosomes in various genomes of species in the Triticeae, further work to identify the underlying mechanisms and then to pyramid the controlling genes for the various traits, that could act additively or even synergistically, might enable substantial gains in salt tolerance to be achieved.

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