Drought, flooding, salt and low nutrient levels negatively affect plant growth and lower crop productivity. These environmental stresses have the greatest impact on our highly adapted domesticated crops while their wild plant relatives have evolved mechanisms to help them overcome these challenges. Understanding these mechanisms will enable cultivated crops to be grown in previously unsuitable habitats and in the face of changing climatic conditions, thus feeding a rapidly growing global population.
Dr. Loren H. Rieseberg of the University of British Columbia and John Burke of University of Georgia are leading an international team investigating why wild plants are more resistant to environmental stresses.
Sunflowers are ideal for this project, as they are limited by environmental stresses but have wild counterparts adapted to a variety of extreme environments. Worldwide, sunflower oilseed crops are valued at about $20 billion annually and sunflower species are grown commercially on 22 million hectares around the globe, currently the world’s largest plant family containing 24,000 species of plants — including many crops and medicinal plants, horticulture plants and noxious weeds.
This project aims to take the reference genome created by a previously funded project for the sunflower family further to investigate the molecular and physiological basis of drought, flooding, salt, and low-nutrient stress resistance in cultivated sunflower and reproductively compatible, stress-adapted wild species that are potential donors of beneficial resistance traits.
The research aims to achieve several objectives: (1) identify and fully characterize the genetic basis of stress resistance traits in sunflower; (2) create germplasm resources that would enable breeders to put stress-resistant, high-yield cultivars in the field; (3) develop models to predict crop yields of stress resistant cultivars under different conditions. Lastly, the project aims to develop strategies for reducing barriers to R&D caused by international treaties. In the face of changing climatic conditions, this research could help with using currently unsuitable land for growing stress-resistant crops and improving food security.