Scientists find drought-resistance gene that could help barley survive climate change

Discovery has 'significant' ramifications for the crop, a key ingredient in beer and whisky production, say researchers

More extreme and frequent droughts have been recognised across the globe
More extreme and frequent droughts have been recognised across the globe

Scientists have discovered a gene in barley that could help to make the crop more drought resistant as climate change threatens to create difficult growing conditions for farmers.

A five-year study of the crop, a key ingredient in beer and whisky production, saw scientists isolate the specific gene responsible for drought resistance – HvMYB1.

The gene is one of 39,000 present in the plant, and when more prominently expressed can create crops that are better able to survive dry, hot conditions, according to testing led by Peter Morris of Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

The finding is expected to have important ramifications for cereal crops amid increasing challenges caused by climate change-related droughts.

In 2018, when a cold winter brought on by the “beast from the east“ weather phenomenon was followed by a long dry summer, barley harvest fell by 7.9 per cent compared to the average of the previous year.

At the time, NFU combinable crops board chairman Tom Bradshaw said the extreme weather events of the year had caused crop yields to become increasingly unpredictable.

And with more extreme and frequent droughts recognised across the globe, and a growing scientific consensus willing to point the blame for the exacerbated dry spells at climate change, scientists believe the new development could help see the crop grown well into the future.

Peter Morris from Heriot Watt University, who led the research team, said: “By increasing the expression of this particular gene in test plants and simulating drought conditions, we’ve been able to prove that plants in which HvMYB1 is more prominently expressed are able to survive prolonged periods of drought.

“This is a significant finding that will allow more drought resistance crops to be bred in the future.

“Drought is already impacting yields with the European cereals harvest hit particularly hard in 2018. A prolonged, dry and hot summer significantly impacted yields and quality.

“As climate change gathers pace and we experience more extreme seasons, it is essential we can maintain continuity of supply.”

The research was funded in part by the Scotch Whisky Association.

Mr Morris said that the finding was significant for key industries such as scotch whisky production, but also had important implications for the wider cereals industry including the production of wheat, maize and rice.

The interaction between scientists and cereal in the past has created answers to significant global problems – most notably by Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who created a semi-dwarf wheat which led to higher yields of the crop and reduced famine in countries including Mexico, India and Pakistan, becoming the most prevalent version of the crop on the planet today.

Additional reporting by PA

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in