New tools for drought tolerant wheat

29 June 2021

Wheat breeders can now improve the drought tolerance of their wheat cultivars thanks to a gene breakthrough from a joint QAAFI and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) team of researchers.

Dr Jack Christopher and Dr Alison Kelly from QAAFI and Dr Mandy Christopher from DAF partnered to tease apart the complex genetics of stay-green in wheat.

Dr Mandy Christopher, Dr Jack Christopher and Dr Alison Kelly. 

“Queensland wheat crops often experience water limitation at the end of the growing season,” said DAF’s Dr Mandy Christopher.

“Wheat cultivars that stay green for longer are better at maintaining yield under dry conditions.

“The genetics of this trait, however, are complicated. It makes it difficult for breeders to select for in the field.”

The team used a uniquely structured population along with a new statistical method, especially developed for the research, to identify genetic regions involved in stay-green, while simultaneously developing breeding parents carrying the genes.

“We showed, that despite these challenges, breeding for stay-green, in combination with associated drought tolerance mechanisms, like root architecture or transpiration efficiency, can be effective,” said Dr Christopher.

This breakthrough means Australian wheat breeders now have at their fingertips the tools they need to be able to develop cultivars with this valuable trait.

The international journal Field Crops Research has accepted Dr Christopher’s research paper on stay-green in wheat for publication. The paper is currently available online until 23 July 2021 and involves input from DAF, QAAFI and CSIRO scientists.

This research forms part of a Grains Research and Development Corporation project into the delivery of wheat root traits that contribute to water limited yield stability.


Dr Jack Christopher, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Crop Science, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, The University of Queensland. T. +61 7 4529 1413 M. 0434609152 or E. 

Dr Mandy Christopher, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) Queensland, E:, T: 07 4529 1380, M: 0405494660

Photos for media

View research paper

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.