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Discovered Soy Gene Could Save Us From Salty Starvation

Jan 09, 2015 08:33 PM EST

An international collaborative between Chinese and Australian researchers has led to the discovery of a gene in soybeans that can help the plant naturally tolerate soil salinity, and that's really good news for the future of agriculture. Experts explain why.

"Soybean is the fifth largest crop in the world in terms of both crop area planted and amount harvested," lead researcher Matthew Gilliham, at the University of Adelaide, said in a recent statement. "But many commercial crops are sensitive to soil salinity and this can cause major losses to crop yields."

"On top of that, the area of salt-affected agricultural land is rapidly increasing and is predicted to double in the next 35 years," he added. "The identification of genes that improve crop salt tolerance will be essential to our efforts to improve global food security."

Nature World News recently reported in an extended feature how "salt-loving super plants" may have to replace the staple crops we know and love (corn, rice, soy, etc.) in order to save the world from starvation. As things stand the globe is losing an estimated 2,000 hectares (~5,000 acres) of irrigated farmland annually to built up "salt poisoning."

Experts press that we lose farmland to salt faster than we can gain it back through flushing, extensive fertilization, or expensive chemical treatment. And that's a frightening revelation, as the world's demand for food is set to increase by two-thirds by mid-century.

However, with this latest soy revelation, there is new hope that the current agriculture system can survive.

"It appears that this gene was lost when breeding new cultivars of soybean in areas without salinity," researcher Lijuan Qiu said, explaining why soy is impacted by salt today. "This has left many new cultivars susceptible to the rapid increases we are currently seeing in soil salinity around the world."

However, if the crop can be encouraged to gain back this valuable trait, it can be farmed in "poisoned" land that has been abandoned by frustrated farmers.

"This gene functions in a completely new way from other salt tolerance genes we know about," added Gilliham. "We can now use this information to find similar genes in different crops such as wheat and grapevine, to selectively breed for their enhanced salt tolerance."

The discovery is detailed in full in The Plant Journal.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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