Australian wild rice: an opportunity to develop new sustainable food crops

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Shapter, FM, Malory, S, Chivers, I & Henry, RJ 2008, ‘Australian wild rice: an opportunity to develop new sustainable food crops’, paper presented to 1st Australian Wild Rice Symposium: Australia, a major centre of diversity for rice, Lismore, NSW, 17 July.


With global cereal production sourced from approximately only 0.2% of the world’s grass (Poaceae) species, wild crop relatives present a wealth of largely untapped biodiversity for crop improvement. Due to Australia’s short agricultural history and geographic isolation Australian wild rice relatives, as well as other native grasses, are intrinsically adapted to Australia’s changing climate. This provides a unique genetic pool from which to develop new fodder and cereal crop alternatives. Advances in molecular genetics over recent decades have provided new insights into the process of domestication and the key genes involved in the domestication syndrome. Concurrently, recent studies have confirmed allelic variability exists between Australian wild rices and those naturalised in other countries. This allelic variation can be increasingly harnessed by breeding programs as advances in biotechnology extend the secondary gene pool of species or through genetic modification. Additionally Microlaena stipoides, a distant relative of rice, is being used as a model species for accelerated domestication by harnessing genetic variation from both natural and induced mutations. The abundance of cereal genomic data is a key resource and can be utilised in conjunction with large scale SNP analyses for breeding selection. With reduced water availability, increasing input constraints such as fuel and fertiliser price rises and changing climate, accelerated domestication of native species may have a role in ensuring our food security into the future.