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ARS, Mexico Work to Develop New Breeds of Lesquerella

By David Elstein
July 15, 2003

An Agricultural Research Service laboratory in Arizona and a research university in Mexico are working together to develop breeds of lesquerella that can tolerate and grow in the saline soils of Mexico and the southwestern United States.

The ARS U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory's Environmental and Plant Dynamic Research Unit in Phoenix, Ariz., is testing its lesquerella plants at the Universidad Autónoma Agraria Antonio Narro, in Coahuila, Mexico.

Lesquerella is a wild flower of the mustard family. ARS researchers at several locations across the country are investigating different uses of the crop such as using it as an oil, like castor oil, or as a gum to thicken certain foods. Lesquerella has traditionally not grown well in soil that is irrigated with salty water, but the researchers think they have created a new version that can withstand the salinity.

The lesquerella seeds that are planted in Mexico were developed a few years ago in conjunction with the ARS George E. Brown, Jr., Salinity Laboratory in Riverside, Calif. ARS scientists are trying to develop a more diverse group of lesquerella plants that can grow in different regions and withstand certain pests or pathogens.

The Mexican scientist Diana Jasso de Rodríguez is responsible for the planting and experimenting in the Coahuila region of northern Mexico. ARS geneticist David A. Dierig, of the Phoenix lab, chose that region of Mexico to do the research because he successfully conducted a lesquerella germplasm collection with Jasso de Rodríguez there a few years ago.

The Specific Cooperative Agreement lasts through September 2007. The researchers hope by that time to develop a more suitable variety of lesquerella that can be harvested in Mexico. They have also planted similar experiments in the Pecos region of Texas in cooperation with Texas A&M University, as well as another planting in Phoenix. The ARS Riverside lab is analyzing all plant samples from the experiments.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.