Back to the future for drought tolerance

Luis M. Guadarrama-Escobar, James Hunt, Allison Gurung, Pablo J. Zarco-Tejada, Sergey Shabala, Carlos Camino, Pilar Hernandez, Mohammad Pourkheirandish

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Global agriculture faces increasing pressure to produce more food with fewer resources. Drought, exacerbated by climate change, is a major agricultural constraint costing the industry an estimated US$80 billion per year in lost production. Wild relatives of domesticated crops, including wheat (Triticum spp.) and barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), are an underutilized source of drought tolerance genes. However, managing their undesirable characteristics, assessing drought responses, and selecting lines with heritable traits remains a significant challenge. Here, we propose a novel strategy of using multi-trait selection criteria based on high-throughput spectral images to facilitate the assessment and selection challenge. The importance of measuring plant capacity for sustained carbon fixation under drought stress is explored, and an image-based transpiration efficiency (iTE) index obtained via a combination of hyperspectral and thermal imaging, is proposed. Incorporating iTE along with other drought-related variables in selection criteria will allow the identification of accessions with diverse tolerance mechanisms. A comprehensive approach that merges high-throughput phenotyping and de novo domestication is proposed for developing drought-tolerant prebreeding material and providing breeders with access to gene pools containing unexplored drought tolerance mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-383
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


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