Researchers Race to Make Barley Drought-Resistant

A 2018 study pointed to trouble brewing for the world’s beer drinkers and that climate change could lead to “dramatic” price spikes and supply shortages.

Not good…..But now scientists in Edinburgh have identified a gene that may make barley drought-resistant

First the bad news…

According to a study, published in the journal Nature Plants, heat waves and droughts could occur every three years leading to barley destruction on a global scale and a roughly 16% drop in beer consumption compared to today.

Barley, the fourth largest grain crop globally, is along with hops, yeast and water, one of beer’s most important components. And although it is primarily grown to feed livestock, beer accounts for about 17% of worldwide barley production.

In a future, when global warming is expected to raise atmospheric temperatures over land about 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), the world’s barley supply could potentially drop as much as 15% by the end of the century.

Now the good news…

(Courtesy Heriot-Watt University)

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland have discovered that a particular gene inherent in barley is responsible for controlling stress tolerance – effectively ‘switching on’ its ability to cope with heat and water scarcity – and enabling it to survive prolonged periods of drought.

And the discovery of this important gene responsible for stress tolerance, among the 39,000 or so genes in barley, couldn’t be timelier…In 2018 Europe suffered from high temperatures and a consequential drought that impacted its grain crops significantly… so the global warming’s impact may have already begun being felt.

Dr Peter Morris, who headed the study, told the BBC that the discovery of the gene has allowed them to hydroponically breed test-controlled barley plants where that stress tolerance gene is always “switched o.” And this breakthrough could eventually lead to a heartier commercial barley strain…one that is able to better withstand the impact of a warming planet.

The results of their five year study, which was funded by the Scottish Whisky Association were published in the Journal of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry.

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