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In the race to protect staple food crops from risks posed by climate change, scientists in Turkey are conducting research into how ancient wheat landraces survive extreme heat and drought.
Early domesticated wheat varieties emerged in Turkey almost 10,000 years ago in hot and arid climate conditions. As a result, germplasm – the material from which the plant is made up – found in contemporary varieties offers scientists the potential to identify, prioritize and strategically breed genes from hardy heat and drought resistant plants.
Results of recent research are so promising that Turkey’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock’s General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Politics has given a certificate of recognition to scientist Emel Ozer, climate change and drought research unit officer at the Bahri Dagdas International Agricultural Research Institute (BDIARI).
Ozer is working on a project in Konya, about 250 kilometers south of Turkey’s capital Ankara, supported by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) aimed at identifying wheat genetic markers for drought and heat. Ozer received the award for honors of excellence for her studies over the past three years from Nevzat Birisik of the General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Politics.
“By identifying and combining the right genes, we’ll eventually be able to transfer new technologies to modern wheat varieties, helping scientists and institutions to fortify wheat against the impact of climate change,” said Marta Lopes, a scientist with CIMMYT’s winter wheat physiology program, who has worked with Ozer over the past six years.
“By implementing field trials and testing varieties in the region, ensuring that planting is done properly and designing training courses for the local community, Emel has made a significant impact, helping us move towards our goals.”
Data gathered by Ozer helps improve the reach of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Under the guidance of Lopes, Ozer works to address the challenges of climate change in Iran, Morocco and Turkey by creating an international database to promote the use of wheat genetic resources and increase genetic gains.
“Through extensive fieldwork, Ozer has also helped develop and improve methodologies that are easier, faster and cheaper to use to measure varieties for drought and heat tolerance,” Lopes said.
“This award is the fruit of my studies, personal and cooperative efforts with other researchers and my research projects,” Ozer said. “The biggest challenge is being a woman researcher in a field dominated by men. In my country, unlike in many other countries, there aren’t many women researchers which means it’s more difficult.”
Formerly a wheat breeder at BDIARI, Ozer helped design and revamp wheat field phenotyping courses with Lopes.
Exploiting genetic diversity from landraces in wheat breeding for adaptation to climate change – Journal of Experimental Botany