Bolstering drought stress tolerance through improved understanding of barley genetics
  • 05/30/2023

Bolstering drought stress tolerance through improved understanding of barley genetics

A recently published article in BMC Plant Biology showcases work being done to better understand barley genetics that impact drought stress tolerance. The information gained through this research informs barley breeding programs throughout the country as they seek to select new lines that will show greater resilience to our changing climate, which in many regions, has meant more frequent and severe drought events. 


Barley is a relatively drought tolerant species compared to many of its relatives, but episodes of prolonged dry periods, as experienced throughout most of the primary barley growing regions in 2021, led to a 30% reduction in production. Barley supplies intended for the malting industry fell short of demand as some of that production also had quality issues related to drought stress, including too high levels of protein in the grain. 


A collaborative effort between USDA Agricultural Research Service researchers from the Cereal Crops Research Unit (Madison, WI) and the Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit (Aberdeen, ID) set out to identify novel, stable, and adaptive traits and candidate genes associated with drought tolerance. A population of barley lines were studied in the field under drought conditions, with and without irrigation, examining yields and seed protein content. As a result, candidate genes identified can be used for marker assisted selection and/or genetic manipulation to develop barley cultivars with improved tolerance to drought. Access the full article here


This work was funded, in part, by the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA), a trade organization representing end users of malting barley including maltsters, brewers, and distillers. AMBA’s primary purpose is to improve the understanding and development of high quality malting barley for our industry members and this work highlights the innovative research investments made to produce Better Barley for the future. Visit the AMBA website to learn more about their research program and resulting advancements made in barley improvement.