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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Riverside, California » Agricultural Water Efficiency and Salinity Research Unit » Research » Research Project #443607

Research Project: Understanding and Improving Salinity Tolerance in Specialty Crops

Location: Agricultural Water Efficiency and Salinity Research Unit

Project Number: 2036-13210-013-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Mar 15, 2023
End Date: Mar 14, 2028

Objective 1: Evaluate select crop germplasm under high salinity conditions to identify accessions for genetic and molecular analyses and improvement of salinity-tolerant crops. Sub-objective 1.A: Evaluate crop germplasm for salinity tolerance using morphological traits and tissue ion analyses. Sub-objective 1.B: Evaluate crop germplasm for salinity tolerance using gene expression analysis. Sub-objective 1.C: Evaluate crop germplasm for salinity tolerance using biochemical parameters. Sub-objective 1.D: Screen different almond rootstocks for quantitative responses to drought and salinity stress parameters. Objective 2: Determine the genetic, molecular, and physiological mechanisms responsible for salinity tolerance in selected crops using genetic and molecular approaches. Sub-objective 2.A: Decipher roles of nanomaterials in alleviating salinity stress during seed germination. Sub-objective 2.B: Validate candidate genes for their roles in salinity tolerance. Sub-objective 2.C: Examine the role of the SOS pathway in Prunus using protein-protein interaction (PPI) studies and In vitro reconstitution assay of the SOS pathway.

This project focuses on salinity responses and underlying mechanisms of high-value specialty crops that include almond, spinach, and guar. In objective 1, we intend to evaluate crop germplasms for salinity tolerance by analyzing various aspects such as morphological traits, tissue ion concentration, gene expression, and biochemical parameters. By understanding how genotypes respond to salinity and identifying key ions that play a role in salt toxicity, we aim to improve tools and approaches used in salinity studies, leading to better predictions of plant responses. We will also investigate how plants maintain the balance of essential macronutrients such as potassium under elevated salinity and mineral nutrient deprivation conditions to understand the importance of different traits in salt tolerance mechanisms. Additionally, by analyzing the correlation between salinity tolerance and changes in gene expression levels, we aim to identify genes that can be used as markers for efficient screening of crop germplasm for salinity tolerance. Furthermore, we will develop suitable biochemical markers for salinity tolerance through a targeted-metabolomic approach. Lastly, we will study quantitative responses to drought and salinity stress parameters. Identifying genetic mechanisms that are common or unique during drought and salt tolerance will be the key in developing genetic material tolerant to these stresses. Objective 2 of this project focuses on uncovering the genetic, molecular, and physiological mechanisms of salinity tolerance in selected crops using genetic and molecular methods. In our preliminary study, we demonstrated improved wheat seed germination under salinity stress by treating seeds with cerium oxide nanoparticles. The proposed project aims to study the expression differences between nanoparticle-treated and non-treated seeds during seed germination under controlled and saline conditions. By conducting transcriptome analyses, we hope to identify differentially expressed genes between the two groups, which will provide insights into the genes and pathways that regulate the enhanced effects of cerium oxide nanoparticles during seedling germination and growth. Understanding these mechanisms will enable successful wheat cultivation in salt-affected soils. We will also validate candidate genes for salinity tolerance in Prunus, Medicago, and spinach. As these species lack genetic transformation tools and single gene mutants, functional validation of genes involved in salinity tolerance is not feasible. By complementing the salinity tolerance function in Arabidopsis mutants with a particular crop gene, we will be able to validate the gene's role in salinity tolerance. These validated genes will facilitate the development of molecular markers for marker-assisted selection and can be manipulated to improve salt tolerance. Additionally, we will investigate the role of the salt overly sensitive (SOS) pathway in Prunus. Understanding how different SOS proteins interact with each other in regulating ion concentrations in plant cells will be crucial in determining plant responses to salinity stress.