Researchers work to develop heat tolerant crops

January 10, 2013, University of Sydney
Not only humans wilt in heat - developing heat tolerant crops
The researchers used field chambers--boxes that simulate heatwaves--for their tests.

With heatwaves predicted to increase in intensity and duration, the importance of heat tolerant crops is becoming increasingly urgent.

Dr Daniel Tan, from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Agriculture and Environment specialises in developing heat tolerant crops.

"Heatwaves can cause major , such as that of the American last year after consecutive days of soaring temperatures in the Midwest," Dr Tan said.

In Australia crops vulnerable to heat stress include wheat, and cotton grown in the nation's grain belt region. Dr Tan and his team are developing heat of these three crops.

"Heat means not only a reduction in the amount of crop harvested but its quality. In wheat the effect of intense heat includes a reduction in the protein quality of the grain that is harvested. In the case of chickpeas they can become sterile when heat stressed," Dr Tan said.

Together with a team of PhD students and international collaborators, Dr Tan has started a program to develop Australian crops that can resist heat by using natural variations in crop genetic collections from around the world.

"We work with countries where these crops originated, for example America for cotton, and institutions where varieties of genetic crop seeds are held," said Dr Tan.

The material is tested for in a range of locations. are tested in Australia, Mexico and, because of the potential consumer market there, China.

The tests include searching for cotton varieties which can photosynthesise successfully at and chickpea strains that can pollinate in very hot conditions.

"While we are concentrating on crops grown in Australia our work has obvious implications for agriculture worldwide given the documented trend of rising temperatures. The vulnerability of these crops, which feed millions of people, means our work has global relevance," said Dr Tan.

The researchers are looking for naturally occurring heat-resistant variations in crops so they can release them to farmers immediately, without the technical and bureaucratic complexities of producing a genetically modified crop.

In June last year Dr Tan and his team were awarded a $1.8 million Grains Research and Development Corporation grant to develop new strains of tolerant wheat, concentrating on the northern grain region in Narrabri.

This project uses field chambers - large plastic boxes in which reverse cycle air conditioning simulates a heatwave - to test crops at different stages of development, especially just before pollination and at the flowering stage.

Explore further: Leaf wax may prevent heat stress in wheat

Related Stories

Changes in crops acres since freedom to farm

April 12, 2010

The 1996 U.S. Farm Bill eliminated many acreage restrictions, thereby allowing farmers to plant what they believe to be their most competitive crops. A study conducted by University of Illinois agricultural economists evaluated ...

The future of cover crops

July 13, 2011

Winter cover crops are an important component of nutrient cycling, soil cover and organic matter content. Although its benefits are well documented, cover crop use in farming systems is relatively low. Research has shown ...

Crop failures set to increase under climate change

October 7, 2010

Large-scale crop failures like the one that caused the recent Russian wheat crisis are likely to become more common under climate change due to an increased frequency of extreme weather events, a new study shows.

Cooling the planet with crops

January 15, 2009

( -- By carefully selecting which varieties of food crops to cultivate, much of Europe and North America could be cooled by up to 1°C during the summer growing season, say researchers from the University of Bristol, ...

Recommended for you

How human brains became so big

May 23, 2018

The human brain is disproportionately large. And while abundant grey matter confers certain intellectual advantages, sustaining a big brain is costly—consuming a fifth of energy in the human body.

Rehabilitating lactate: From poison to cure

May 23, 2018

George Brooks has been trying to reshape thinking about lactate—in the lab, the clinic and on the training field—for more than 40 years, and finally, it seems, people are listening. Lactate, it's becoming clear, is not ...

Chimpanzee calls differ according to context

May 23, 2018

An important question in the evolution of language is what caused animal calls to diversify and to encode different information. A team of scientists led by Catherine Crockford of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary ...

How a cell knows when to divide

May 23, 2018

How does a cell know when to divide? We know that hundreds of genes contribute to a wave of activity linked to cell division, but to generate that wave new research shows that cells must first grow large enough to produce ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.