DPI Curator assists Swedish scientists
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The Curator of the Australian Winter Cereals Collection (AWCC) at NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Tamworth Agricultural Institute heads to Sweden this week to further develop a world-first system for exploiting genetic plant material.
Michael Mackay has been invited to spend the next six months at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences’ Alnarp campus in southern Sweden after gaining international recognition for Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy (FIGS).
The invitation to work in Sweden demonstrates that the Nordic countries now have an interest in enhancing and documenting this Australian inspired and Grains Research and Development Corporation-funded technology.
The technology takes much of the guess work out of choosing which seed lines (called accessions) are most likely to contain the specific characteristics being sought by plant breeders to improve plant productivity across numerous challenging environments.
It formalises the intuitive processes that many gene bank managers and curators are already employing, thereby enabling more efficient and effective utilisation of germplasm collections like the AWCC.
Mr Mackay said breeders only need to evaluate a few hundred accessions, rather than many thousands, to locate desired attributes - which represents great efficiencies in terms of cost and time.
“Many thousands of traditional varieties, sometimes called landraces, have evolved over millennia around the world,” Mr Mackay said.
“The precise geographic coordinates where these landraces evolved and were collected can be stored using geographic information system (GIS).
“Then, with FIGS, the breeder fine tunes the environmental parameters he requires, such as climate and soil characteristics, and the system objectively selects the best accessions.
“In the case of bread wheat, the AWCC holds the seed of over 6,000 landrace accessions which have, time and again, proved to be the primary source of new genetic variation, such as rust resistance, for plant breeders.”
Mr Mackay said the FIGS system is currently being used to identify accessions with potential drought tolerance, ability to thrive in saline soils and powdery mildew resistance.
The development of FIGS was a joint project involving NSW DPI and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Syria, and the N I Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry in St Petersburg, Russia.
The Tamworth-based AWCC stores over 52,000 accessions of wheat, barley and oats collected globally over the past 90 years. More than 10,000 germplasm seed samples a year are despatched to Australian and international researchers.
Issued by: Annette Cross, NSW DPI Tamworth on (02) 6763 1243 or 0427 201 840.