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Crossbred Barley Withstanding Climate Change

Photo Credit: Montana Public Radio

Researchers are future-proofing our crops.

As more and more concern grows over food demand and the effects climate change is having on it, researchers are constantly looking at new ways of trying to prevent demand from exceeding the supply.

A research team from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg crossed a common variety of barley with different types of wild barley. These were planted in five very different geographical locations to see what kind of weather it could withstand. As luck would have it, it worked! Many of the plants were not only more resistant to heat and drought but was producing more varieties than in normal conditions.

Barley, wheat, and rice are three of the most important crops we need as part of our nutrition. Climate change is taking a toll on growth conditions, leading to plants having to be fertilized and irrigated more often to keep up with demand. But, the researchers noticed that wild barley has withstood changing weather conditions for years, making it a good plant to cross with others.

Their research produced results that will be helpful for years to come. It was very evident that timing was key in the planting cycle. Time of day and distance from the equator played a major role in the development of the plants. Once they were able to figure out what gene variants worked the best in particular regions, they were able to determine the right cross.

Their hard work paid off as they report a 20 percent higher yield in the cross plants (as opposed to the native plants), even under the most adverse of conditions. The research will continue and the team hopes that the same type of principle can be applied to wheat and rice. This could be a major breakthrough in our food demand for the unknown climate times that lie ahead.