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Genetic Diversity and Breeding Naked Barley for Wales

Barley has the greatest range of environmental adaptability of any cereal crop. It can grow further north, higher up the mountains and deeper into the desert than any other cereal, and tolerate drought and salinity, and hence is traditionally the staple crop of some of the toughest areas for agriculture – the Western Isles and Orkney, the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau, the Ethiopian Highlands and the edge of the Arabian desert. In many of these areas, such as Tibet, naked barley still survives because barley is the only cereal able to grow.

Part of the project work is to evaluate the potential of some of these landrace naked barleys to develop new varieties. Edward Dickin has tested a diverse range of naked barley germplasm in field trials in at the Henfaes Research Centre. Many have useful characteristics such as very high seedling vigour and novel nutritional value but lack resistance to UK strains of plant disease, which needs to be remedied by crossing with disease-resistant UK covered barleys.

The selection method we are using follows the plant breeding strategies of Prof. John Witcombe: starting with a wide cross to generate very diverse progeny; followed by simple but very efficient bulk selection in the field.

Katherine Steele is developing a mapping population from one of these wide crosses to better understand the linkages between traits and develop markers to aid future breeding programmes.

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