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The findings should have wide-reaching ramifications, with wheat already providing a fifth of global caloric intake and set to spike in the next 50 years. A gene that can prevent some of the most important wheat diseases has been identified—creating the potential to save more than a billion dollars in lost production in Australia alone each year. In a global collaboration including the University of Sydney's Plant Breeding Institute (PBI), the CSIRO, CIMMYT (Mexico), University of Newcastle, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, the gene Lr67 has been identified as providing resistance to three of the most important wheat rust diseases, along with powdery mildew, a significant disease in Norway. The findings, published today in Nature Genetics, should have wide-reaching ramifications, with wheat already providing a fifth of global caloric intake and set to spike in the next 50 years. The University of Sydney has played a crucial role in this research through the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)-funded Australian Cereal Rust Control Program at PBI, which leads rust research to cater for the needs of Australian cereal breeding companies to release disease resistant varieties for farmers. The CSIRO and the University of Newcastle contributed molecular genetics skills to clone this naturally occurring gene that provides resistance to multiple pathogens of wheat. Principal research fellow at the PBI, Associate Professor Harbans Bariana, said rust diseases are among the most significant constraints to global wheat production. "Estimates put potential losses from wheat rust diseases in Australia alone at more than one-and-a-half billion dollars each year," Associate Professor Bariana said. "The transfer of the gene Lr67 into modern wheat cultivars is already in progress at the University of Sydney component of the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program. "Its transfer to future wheat varieties through marker assisted selection (MAS) based on this work will increase diversity for resistance," he said. The University of Sydney has also been selected in an international consortium, among eight groups globally in the International Wheat Yield Partnership's first competitive call. The project is: 'Increasing carbon capture by optimizing canopy resource distribution'. Project lead is Richard Trethowan, University of Sydney; principal partners are: University of California, Davis and Agharker Research Institute. More information: John W Moore et al. A recently evolved hexose transporter variant confers resistance to multiple pathogens in wheat, Nature Genetics (2015). DOI: 10.1038/ng.3439

Scientists have been researching this very question since 2009, when WA farmers were granted an exemption to the moratorium on the planting of GM canola. According to University of Western Australia (UWA) plant biologists Dr Roberto Busi and Professor Stephen Powles the simple answer is no. Results from their four-year study investigating the demographics of transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola have quashed concerns that GM canola is competitive enough to survive in a natural bushland environment. In fact, it only took three years for the displaced canola to become extinct, Dr Busi says. The study tracked the survival of canola seeds that had blown from paddock windrows into nearby remnant bushland in WA's central Wheatbelt. After the first year of plant establishment in the remnant bushland Dr Busi counted up to 30,000 seeds that all could have germinated in the following year. However, after three years, no canola plants were visible. "We believe the inability of the canola to survive in the long term was a combination of factors including attacks by insects, such as aphids and ants, attacks by vertebrate herbivores, such as rabbits, and fungal disease," he says "Also drought conditions, and competition from other weeds such as ryegrass and brome grass played a part in the extinction of the plant. "Our conclusion is that the study clearly shows there is no risk of transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola becoming a biodiversity risk." The study also investigated GM canola plant survival rates on metropolitan road verges, particularly around grain delivery sites. Where road verges were maintained using only glyphosate to control weeds, transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola obviously flourished, Dr Busi says. "We surveyed a three kilometre strip near Co-operative Bulk Handling's Metro Grain Centre in Forrestfield, and because of grain spillages in the area, there were many weeds on the verges," he says. "Because glyphosate is used on roadsides to control weeds, it had removed every other weed apart from canola volunteers and allowed those plants to survive and reproduce." Dr Busi says the findings from the study would be used to encourage Main Roads WA and local governments to use other herbicide groups to maintain road verges to combat volunteer transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola and other weeds. The study was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation. Explore further: Researcher to Study Gene Flow 'Hot Spots' in Canola

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Site: phys.org

Researchers from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) forecast a relatively healthy future for sorghum crops, but see challenges looming for wheat production. Project leader Professor Graeme Hammer said the research drew on major global climate models to predict rainfall and temperature changes and run simulations for the next 30 years, to understand the impact on cropping in Queensland. QAAFI is a partnership between the University of Queensland and the Queensland Government. Professor Hammer said the outlook for sorghum was not all bad, although impacts varied from region to region. "Providing that we start breeding sorghum for heat stress adaptation now, the modelling shows that in the next 30 years there is not likely to be much more variability than there currently is," Professor Hammer said. "Even with increasing heat stress events and reduced summer rainfall predicted under the climate modelling, the impact on sorghum yields to 2050 are offset by the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, which enables the sorghum plant to use water more efficiently for growth." Professor Hammer said the situation was more challenging for wheat crops. "While the modelling shows there will be a reduction in summer rainfall, when sorghum crops are planted, there is even more of a decrease in winter rainfall, when wheat crops are planted, which increases risk of drought stress," Professor Hammer said. "However, increased temperature will tend to shorten the growing season and counter the effect of limited water supply to some extent." He said increasing temperatures would cut wheat yield in some regions. Professor Hammer said researchers from QAAFI, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) were working with the Grains Research and Development Corporation to improve the heat tolerance and water use efficiency in sorghum and wheat crops to deal with climate risks. The research is supported by a $4 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant for sorghum "drought-proofing" work. "Sorghum is a staple food for about 500 million people around the world, and had significant nutritional qualities," Professor Hammer said. Professor Hammer will present an analysis of projected heat and drought stresses across Queensland to 2050 at the TropAg conference in Brisbane this week. Explore further: Global warming affects crop yields, but it's the water not the heat

Samsung, Intel and Telefónica have joined the likes of Google and invested in a startup company that specializes in speech analysis, IDC News Service reported. The San Francisco-based Expect Labs created a technology that can analyze and understand conversations in real-time, and then uses that data to find related information. The company previously created an iPad application known as MindMeld that can analyze a conversation and automatically display relevant content such as photos, videos and articles. Expect Labs is hoping to take its technology even further, however. Chief executive and founder Timothy Tuttle predicts that in a few years connected devices “will know who we are, understand what we say, and be far more capable of interpreting our intentions and anticipating our needs.” The company said that the new investments will help it speed up development and extend its technology to different industry verticals and geographic markets. Samsung said that it looks forward to integrating “new types of intelligent, voice-driven and context aware” applications into its smartphones, tablets and smart TVs.

University of Western Australia (UWA) and CSIRO scientists will use remote sensing technology to map frosted crop areas to assist farmers make business decisions after a frost event using affordable, on-farm technology. The project will use a wide range of electromagnetic wavelengths, including visible, near infrared and thermal reflections or emissions, to determine the best method for rapidly identifying frost damaged plants. UWA agronomist Ken Flower, together with Geographic Information Systems and remote sensing experts Bryan Boruff and Nick Callow, are part of the four-year project which will include Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones; and thermal, hyper, and multi spectral cameras to detect frost-damaged plants. The project will not only consider the best wavelengths and camera options to assess damage after a frost event, but also the best times to capture the damage and the best platforms to deploy the cameras. Frost damage will change the light signature of a plant compared with a non-frosted plant because of the change in the physiology, Dr Flower says. "Farmers generally know which paddocks are frost prone, but we also want to know which specific areas within a paddock have been frost damaged to allow rapid business decisions to be made," he says. "In just one paddock, the temperature can be extremely variable, as a result of the different soils, open zones, high stubble, sloped areas, and other factors." The project will measure temperature variations vertically and horizontally in the crop canopy using a disturbed temperature sensing system (DTS). The DTS uses optic fibre cable that can run for many kilometres and be configured to give an accurate distribution of the temperature between the ground canopy and across the paddock. "We can then measure the variations in canopy temperature, crop damage and reflected wavelengths and correlate that to the final yield," he says. The project is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation through the National Frost Initiative, and will link with the Department of Agriculture and Food WA's frost trials in the Wheatbelt where scientists are considering varietal responses to frost.

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