A novel approach to improve water use by grain crops

Neil Turner - CSIRO Plant Industry

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

Understanding how  water moves through the plant, provides a great insight to making the best use of the available water in the soil and rain events

What is the problem?

Most agricultural systems in Australia are constrained by limited rainfall. This is particularly true of the grains industry in the Western Region where crops are grown under rainfed conditions and terminal drought frequently limits production.

The target of this plan was:

*To resolve the aspect of aquaporins (water channels) on the hydraulic conductance and water use of roots and leaves of grain crops, with emphasis on wheat and lupin.

*To regulate the result of environmental factors (drought, waterlogging, salinity, temperature extremes) on the activity of aquaporins and the potential to alter water use and water use efficiency of crops.

*To cortege a PhD novice in a rapidly-expanding field and introduce new skills to the Western Region.

What did the research involve?

– A discovery in the 1990s provided an opportunity to explore new ways to potentially control the water use and water use efficiency of crops. Water channels were discovered in the membranes of all plant and animal cells.

– Yellow lupin was included as previous work in co-supervisor Dr. David Turner’s laboratory had shown that it was much more waterlogging tolerant than narrow-leafed lupin.

– Mrs Bramley then moved to Adelaide to work in the laboratory of co-supervisor Professor Stephen Tyerman who has pressure probe facilities for studying the hydraulic conductivity of individual plant cells and a root pressure probe for detailed measurements of the hydraulic conductivity and permeability of detached roots at Adelaide University.

– This indicates that the water bypasses the cells and moves through the apoplast in these species.

What were the key findings?

– The primary aims of this project were to provide a basic understanding of the role of water channels (aquaporins) that reside in the membranes of plant cells and their influence on water movement through the roots of three crop plants; wheat, narrow-leafed lupin and yellow lupin.

– The expected benefit was therefore primarily one of capacity building. The PhD student training, conducted at both the University of Western Australia (UWA) and Adelaide University, involved use of the pressure chamber, root pressure probe and cell pressure probe, all of which proved difficult in developing protocols for the studies.

– A second outcome of the project is a clear understanding of the role of water channels in water transport of roots. The water channels in wheat are active in water movement, but in both lupin species water movement through the root occurs through the apoplastic without passing through membranes.

– Students at the University of Western Australia retain control over all intellectual property generated while a student for a period of 12 months after the thesis is lodged in the university library.

Final comment

“Despite there has been considerable research on the molecular basis of aquaporins in plants, it is not appropriate to follow a genetic route for controlling water use by altering water channel activity.”

2016 - Neil Turner - CSIRO Plant Industry
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