Conservation Matters May 2012

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

AgriLife researchers working to pinpoint wheat drought-tolerance mechanisms

Drought-tolerant WheatTexas AgriLife Research scientists are on a quest to find where different wheat varieties popular in the High Plains get their drought tolerance.

Dr. Shuyu Liu, AgriLife Research small grains geneticist in Amarillo, is working with a group of scientists on an Ogallala Aquifer Program-funded project to identify key genetic regulators of drought tolerance.

"We are trying to understand the drought-tolerant mechanisms in wheat varieties," Liu said. "In this study, we are looking at three widely planted varieties in the High Plains, TAM 111, TAM 112 and TAM 304.

"Based on breeders' observation, they found that TAM 111 is very good at both irrigated and dryland," he said. "TAM 112 is much better under prolonged dryland conditions, such as 2011. TAM 304 is very good under irrigated conditions, but not under dryland."

Breeders' observations from the field and the physiological traits collected in the last few years show these three cultivars have different responses to water stress; however, the basis of their adaptation remains unknown, he said.

Determining the mechanisms of adaptation to drought conditions is very important, Liu said, because in 2011 alone, drought stress resulted in the loss of more than 240 million bushels of winter wheat with a cost of about $1.33 billion in the Southern Great Plains.

"We conducted this experiment in the greenhouse to understand how these three varieties respond to water differently and at different stages," he said.

Liu said at the same time they have been conducting this greenhouse experiment, all these three varieties have been growing in the field and many data will be collected by the AgriLife Research stress physiology and breeding groups at Amarillo, such as yield and its components and canopy temperature.

"At the end, we will combine the greenhouse data, field data and lab data together to figure out what the difference is for the drought-tolerant mechanism among these three varieties," he said.

The Ogallala Aquifer Program is administered in part by the Texas Water Resources Institute. For more details on the research, read the full story at AgriLife TODAY.

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