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        Crucial gene helps crops grow on alkaline land

        By Li Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-07 09:29
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        Chinese scientists have identified a crucial gene that allows staple crops to thrive on vast swathes of infertile lands worldwide.

        Trials have shown the modification to the gene, AT1, can greatly increase the yields of sorghum, rice, wheat, corn and millet grown on saline-alkaline land.

        "There are hundreds of millions of hectares of such land worldwide," said Xie Qi, a lead scientist of the project.

        "The cultivation and promotion of high-quality salt-alkali tolerant crop varieties will effectively increase the productivity of saline-alkaline land, which is important to ensuring global food security," he said.

        Xie, a researcher at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues from a mix of research institutes, including Professor Yu Feifei from China Agricultural University, and Professor Ouyang Yidan from Huazhong Agricultural University, published the findings last year in the topnotch academic journals Science and National Science Review.

        According to Xie, significant progress has been made globally in salt tolerance research in crops, whereas much remained unknown about the mechanisms of alkaline tolerance in crops before their study.

        Xie said their unique selection of experimental materials was crucial for the success. Previous studies had used model plants like Arabidopsis, which originate from non-alkaline environments. The deficiencies in alkaline tolerance genetic information had made breakthroughs hard.

        In Xie's study, sorghum was chosen. The crop originates from the infertile lands of Central Africa, where the wide-ranging variations in soil salinity and alkalinity have driven sorghum to evolve as a rich genetic resource for alkaline tolerance.

        The research team conducted a whole-genome big data association analysis of sorghum genetic resources and identified AT1 and the molecular mechanism of crop alkaline tolerance. Subsequent research revealed that the regulation mechanism in rice, wheat, corn and millet is highly similar.

        Building on these findings, the team used the AT1 gene to improve alkaline tolerance in related crops through breeding and conducted field experiments.

        In the saline-alkaline lands of Pingluo, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, sorghum grain yields increased by 20.1 percent, and millet yields increased by 19.5 percent, the researcher said.?Da'an, Jilin province, rice yields increased by 22.4 to 27.8 percent. The AT1 gene also significantly improved the survival rate of corn on saline-alkaline land.

        Reviewers of the journal Science said this study comprehensively applied various cutting-edge biotechnologies, addressed scientific issues related to alkaline tolerance mechanisms in multiple crops, and represented a significant discovery in the science community.

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