Don't ignore genetics in drought battle

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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A world leader in agricultural biotechnology believes the future of Australia's grain industry rests with fighting drought through genetics.

Professor Mehmet Cakir said areas such as the eastern Wheatbelt had a bright future if plant breeders were able to identify drought-tolerant genes and develop new varieties.

Dr Cakir said though research in Australia was focused on traditional plant breeding it was important not to dismiss the potential benefits from genetically modified varieties.

"I understand that at the moment in Australia we have a good portion of the population against GM food and crops, but we have to look at the pros and cons of all technology," he said.

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"There is huge room to benefit long-term but we need to be mindful of this."

Murdoch University, where Dr Cakir leads a research project to help develop new wheat varieties for low rainfall areas, is co-hosting a major international conference on drought-related agricultural science, which opens today at Crown Perth.

The conference, which is also hosted by the University of WA, Curtin University, the Department of Agriculture and Food WA and CSIRO, has attracted Australia's leading researchers and 300 delegates from more than 50 countries.

"The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation ranks drought as the most common cause of severe food shortages in developing countries," Dr Cakir said.

"And even in Australia, drought can cost grain producers in excess of $1 billion per year. Farming is bread and butter for a large part of this State and drought is one of the major yield-limiting factors."

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