Antarctic Hair Grass: Turkish Scientists Seek to Develop Cold-Resistant Wheat

Turkish scientists are planning to incorporate Antarctic hair grass’s genetic material into wheat plants to make them resistant to the extremely arid and salty environment.

A Turkish team spent 30 days in Antarctica in Feb. 2019 as part of the Third National Antarctic Science Expedition, supported by the Turkish Presidency, the Industry and Technology Ministry, and Istanbul Technical University’s Polar Research Center and other institutions.

During the expedition, the team obtained Antarctic hair grass plants from eight different locations. Their samples were kept in a protective environment at Nigde Omer Halisdemir University.

“The plants have been growing healthily for the past two years. At the same time, we took their seeds and undertook tissue culture studies. We made a test to use these plants in landscaping in the cold environment of Nigde [province],” Zahide Neslihan Ozturk Gokce, a lecture at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Technologies in the Omer Halisdemir University told Anadolu Agency.

He said the plants continued to grow when they were put in a cold place without any sunlight.

Gokce said that Antarctic hair grass is a relative of barley and wheat from the Poaceae family of plants, including the cereal grasses. It grows in the most nutrient-scarce, arid, and salty environments due to Antarctica’s abundance of seawater.

She said the scientists aim to pass this quality of grass to agricultural plants, adding that there are plans to use the DNA or the genetic material of Antarctic hair grass into wheat plants.

Supported by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK), the project will also detect the miRNA or messenger RNA genes that enable Antarctic hair grass to survive in extreme environments.

“In future projects, it is planned to obtain transgenic plants that do not lose their yield even in case of water shortage due to climate change by transferring these genes to grains, especially wheat,” said Gokce.

She also said that the primary purpose is to combat drought and salinity.
In April 2016, the first-ever Turkish team of researchers — including doctors, botanists, geologists, and oceanographers from seven universities – had traveled to Antarctica to study the impact of climate change.

Antarctica, the coldest continent on earth, has served as a scientific research zone since signing the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, committing to use the continent for peaceful purposes only.

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