Engineering high-level aluminum tolerance in barley with the ALMT1 gene

And now for something completely different … how many of you remember your high school biology?

SeedQuest – Central information website for the global seed industry: “Acidity is a serious limitation to plant production on many of the world’s agricultural soils. Toxic aluminium (Al) cations solubilized by the acidity rapidly inhibit root growth and limit subsequent uptake of water and nutrients. Recent work has shown that the ALMT1 gene of wheat (Triticum aestivum) encodes a malate transporter that is associated with malate efflux and Al tolerance. We generated transgenic barley (Hordeum vulgare) plants expressing ALMT1 and assessed their ability to exude malate and withstand Al stress. ALMT1 expression in barley conferred an Al-activated efflux of malate with properties similar to those of Al-tolerant wheat. The transgenic barley showed a high level of Al tolerance when grown in both hydroponic culture and on acid soils. These findings provide additional evidence that ALMT1 is a major Al-tolerance gene and demonstrate its ability to confer effective tolerance to acid soils through a transgenic approach in an important crop species.”

I don’t remember much myself, but I did work for a while with a research farm north of Toronto. Basically, aluminum is a soil pollutant. We knew that. The way it acts as a pollutant is it stops seed roots from growing, limiting access to water and nutrients. Then presumably it either kills or stunts the plant.

Using genetic engineering, they found a way of taking a gene from wheat, crossing it with barley, and making the barley more tolerant of the aluminum that is poisoning the soil (don’t ask me for a more in-depth explanation, we’ve just exhausted my understanding of it).

Sounds to me like another good reason to recycle aluminum rather than throw it into landfill.

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