Melbourne: Researchers have identified a gene that could enable soybean increase its tolerance of soil salinity.
The gene GmSALT3 is associated with salt tolerance that could lead to potential improvement of soybean, the researchers said.
"The identification of genes that improve crop salt tolerance will be essential to our efforts to improve global food security," said the project's lead author Matthew Gilliham from the University of Adelaide.
The researchers identified the gene after examining the genetic sequence of several hundred soybean varieties.
"We initially identified the gene by comparing two commercial cultivars," said professor Lijuan Qiu from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences' Institute of Crop Sciences in Beijing.
A cultivar is a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding.
"We were surprised and pleased to see that this gene also conferred salt tolerance in some other commercial cultivars, old domesticated soybean varieties and even wild soybean," Qiu added.
It appears that this gene was lost when breeding new cultivars of soybean in areas without salinity.
"This has left many new cultivars susceptible to the rapid increases we are currently seeing in soil salinity around the world," Qiu said.
By identifying the gene, genetic markers can now be used in breeding programmes to ensure that salt tolerance can be maintained in future cultivars of soybean that would be grown in areas prone to soil salinity, the researchers said.
The study appeared in The Plant Journal.