Biosalinity Awareness Project

...understanding the impact of salinization and implications for future agriculture

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Current Research & Development
The following is a compilation of non-profit development organizations, government sponsored projects, university laboratories, research institutes, and commercial enterprises committed to the development, propagation, and cultivation of salt-tolerant plant species for their future economic and environmental benefits.

Middle East
University Research



Established in 1947, the United States Salinity Laboratory (USSL) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is located in Riverside, California.  The USSL is committed to (1) finding solutions to the problems of crop production on salt-affected lands, (2) promoting the sustainability of irrigated agriculture, and (3) preventing the further degradation of surface and groundwater resources by salts, pesticides, and pathogens through innovative research, scientific knowledge, and new technologies.  The research provided by the USSL plays an ever increasing role in meeting the challenges of a future.  Aided by its state-of-the-art facility, the USSL continues to provide world leadership in salinity research through the combined efforts of its three interactive research units: soil-water chemistry and assessment, soil physics-pesticides, and plant sciences.  The plant science group is actively developing an integrative understanding of salt and ion-specific effects that will lead to improved crop tolerance.  Research on plant physiology and development, and the integration of physical and chemical factors associated with the environment and farm management, are being combined to develop comprehensive approaches for dealing with salinity problems in agriculture.  The group is also focused on determining the genetic characters responsible for salt-tolerance and specific salt-induced responses in plants as well as the development of screening and selection methodologies for breeding salt-tolerant varieties.

The Environmental Research Laboratory (ERL) is part of the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science within the College of Agriculture at the
University of Arizona.  The ERL has long been one of the pioneers in halophyte research and the development of integrated biosaline agro-aquaculture systems.  Since its inception in 1967, the ERL has been committed to increasing biomass productivity in coastal desert regions, with the aim of achieving food security and ‘greening the deserts’.  In the early 1980’s, the ERL began conducting trials and pilot projects with Salicornia bigelovii (known as sea asparagus) in the US, Mexico, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.  In Mexico, it was evaluated for its potential as a commercial oilseed crop for human consumption, and in Saudi Arabia as fodder for livestock.  In 1993, under the aegis of Halophyte Enterprises International (HEI), a 370 acre experimental plot irrigated solely with seawater was established near Jubail, Saudi Arabia.  Researchers at the ERL are have also bee concerned with the nutritional value, biomass productivity, and industrial uses of halophytes as well as their utilization in integrated aquaculture systems.  In 1998, researchers published the results of its most recent greenhouse trials with S. bigelovii suggesting that further genetic improvements would enhance its use as an oilseed crop.  A recent outgrowth of the ERL, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) is a nonprofit “Natural History Resource Center and Biological Field Station” located in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico, the meeting place of two marine and desert Biosphere Reserves the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta and the Piñacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserves.

The USDA-ARS Forage and Range Research Laboratory (FRRL) in Logan, Utah has developed, two new breeding lines of salt-tolerant wheat – known as W4909 and W4910 – through traditional “chromosome engineering” in a joint effort involving the USSL, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and visiting researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).  In both lines, one parent carries a number of genes from wild wheatgrass (Thinopyrum junceum) while the other retains a Ph-inhibitor gene which facilitates the exchange or genetic recombination of salt-tolerant traits from the wild species to its hybrid offspring.  Subsequent greenhouse tests, at the USSL in California and field experiments at the CIMMYT in Mexico, substantiate increased salt-tolerance among these new recombinant germplasm lines, which have been registered and released to breeders around the world.  These new varieties could have significant implications for improved fodder/forage cultivation and the revegetation of degraded and saline soils. 

The mission of the Halophyte Biotechnology Center at the University of Delaware is to (1) improve upon salt-tolerant crops for their use in affected agro-ecosystems using biotechnology, (2) develop varieties of plants for saline wetlands restoration that will drive high-productivity ecosystems without continual human input, (3) disseminate knowledge about using salt-tolerant plants to develop sustainable agriculture in areas of the world where soils and irrigation water are salt-affected, and (4) disseminate information on the performance of salt-tolerant varieties in various agro-ecosystems (i.e. rain-fed, irrigated, and tidal).  Using tissue-culture techniques to genetically select halophyte populations with high nutritional value and superior taste, researchers have developed potential grain, vegetable, and fodder crops which are currently being tested in
China, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Thailand and the United States.  The Center is also using genetic engineering to improve halophytes for commercial use by incorporating genes for cold-tolerance into certain wild grass species.  Researchers are continually working to understand the complex mechanisms of stress-tolerance laying the groundwork for isolating these genes, and how they can be infused into traditional crops, such as corn and wheat.  Much of their current focus is on saltmeadow hay (Spartina patens) and seashore mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica).

NyPa International is a family of companies throughout the world, all with the objective of resolving salinity problems ~ turning salt-related liabilities into productive resources and wealth-generating assets.  One of the companies, NyPa Greenbridge, specializes in remediating salt-affected oil- and gas-well sites, including alternative uses of saline wastewater to prevent further contamination of freshwater sources.  Current halophytic remediation technologies, facilitating the low-cost restoration of the Smackover oilfield in Arkansas, demonstrate their potential in rehabilitating land surfaces and resolving landowner property damage claims.  In collaboration with local and national research organizations, NyPa Australia recently completed several large-scale field projects with its full line of patented Distichlis cultivars, derived from wild grasses native to the southwest US.  The results, evaluated by the Institute for International Development (IID), highlight their possibility for commercial grain crops (Distichlis palmeri), fodder and forage (Distichlis spicata) as well as the reclamation of waterlogged saline lands and habitat restoration.  NyPa International licenses to private companies, governments, individuals and universities the services of its cultivars and technology for the management, development, and protection of natural and sustainable resources.  Consultant services include the (1) comprehensive evaluation of salt-affected environments, (2) field/lab analysis of soil/water and the feasibility of sustainable resource use, (3) implementation and management of related technologies (including desalinization), and (4) environmental impact studies. 

The International Arid Lands Consortium (IALC) supports research and development, educational and training initiatives, demonstration projects, workshops, and other technology-transfer activities applied to the development, management, restoration, and the revegetation of arid and semi-arid lands throughout the world.  The IALC was formed in 1989 as an independent, nonprofit organization to enhance cooperation between the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the USDA and the state universities of New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, and Nevada, (including member institutions from Egypt and Jordan).  Guided by an ecological approach to multiple-use management and sustainable use, the IALC and USDA are funding the development of new technologies and management practices aimed at improving the sustainability of the shrimp/aquaculture industry.  As a result, several US shrimp operations have been integrated into existing field crop farms using saline groundwater (1,000-4,000 ppm TDS) to first feed shrimp and then irrigate conventional crops such as sorghum, wheat, and barley.  The Consortium’s research focuses on the production and sustainability of effluent-irrigated field crops: including the impacts of using full-strength effluent to fertilize olive trees (Olea europaea var. manzanillo), and the long-term monitoring of soil and groundwater changes. 

The Desert Development Foundation (DDF) grew out of the activities of the University of Arizona’s ERL work in Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico and the development of CEDO.  Its recent projects in Eritrea, Seawater Farms Eritrea and Seawater Forests Initiative, were established with the aim of solving the planetary-scale problem of climate warming while, at the same time, creating wealth-generating activities that continually improve the quality of life for the coastal areas of developing countries.  The DDF uses seawater, photosynthesis, and human intelligence to green coastal deserts, create communities, generate wealth and abundance, and provide immediate and long lasting planetary ecological balance.  In February 2003, the first seawater forest was planted in Kino Bay, Sonora in anticipation of expanding to the entire coast of the Gulf of California.  In cooperation with the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation (MSSRF), the DDF will begin planting a large-scale mangrove forest in Gujarat, India, in the fall of 2004.

In 1985, the Red Rock Ranch in California’s San Joaquin Valley began its innovative biosaline operations, known as Integrated On-Farm Drainage Management (IFDM), in an effort to cope with overwhelming salinity and waterlogging constraints.  The first line of defense was to plant water-hungry salt-tolerant eucalypts along the farm's upslope border to reduce salt concentrations in irrigation water.  The 640-acre property was then divided up into quarters and networks of tiled drains were sunk to reticulate the irrigation discharge water.  Three quarters of the property is irrigated with first-use irrigation water for high-value salt-sensitive vegetables and broad acre crops such as wheat and safflower.  The discharge which averages 3,000 ppm (TDS), increases to about 9,000 ppm in the second step of re-use, which is then used to irrigate three 40-acre blocks with more salt-tolerant crops such as sugar beets, cotton, canola, and wheat.  When necessary, freshwater is added to manipulate salinity levels so as not to injure these second step crops.  Subsequent runoff is collected and used on smaller third use blocks for forage crops (Elytrigia elongata) that can be cut for cheap hay.  The water is used a fourth time on a variety of halophytic plants (Distichlis spicata) before this highly concentrated water (up to 40,000 ppm) is lightly sprayed onto two acres for rapid evaporation.  The performance of the IFDM system is being evaluated as an ongoing demonstration project by the University of California, Fresno and others.  Although not all steps are yet profitable, it appears that this system would work best when small farmers join together (minimum of 2,400 acres) in order to take advantage of economies of scale.

The Michigan-based private enterprise EnviroTurf has developed fine-textured halophytic turfgrasses that can withstand saltwater flooding and be irrigated with saline, brackish, and poor quality water (typically between 10,000-20,000 ppm).  Extensive research and development activities have enabled them to offer high quality turf management on the most challenging of salt-affected soils and irrigation water including effluent.  EnviroTurf has developed distinct ecotypes of seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum), seashore dropseed (Sporobolus virginicus), and saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) suitable for use on golf courses, athletic fields, and non-essential landscaping irrigated with water up to 28,000 ppm: their main cultivar SeaDwarf is being used on golf courses in Europe and the Americas.  Nursery and turf production units are maintained with saltwater irrigation so that when transplanted, these grasses will perform predictably.  Their consultancy services range from new design and construction to the renovation of existing facilities, including wetland rehabilitation and the reclamation of disturbed industrial sites.

Saline Seed Mexico S.A. (SSM) is an agricultural research facility dedicated to the commercial development of salt-tolerant plants for food, coastal landscaping, and land reclamation.  Established in 1999, with private funds totaling $4 million, SSM is operating a 30 hectare commercial farm in Enseñada, Mexico producing 3 tons of Salicornia bigelovii per week year round, supplying European and North American markets with fresh sea asparagus and other processed products.  SSM also grows non-edible Salicornia and other halophytes, together with salt-tolerant shrubs and trees (mesquite, saltcedar, and mangroves) to anchor shifting sand dunes and prevent coastal erosion.  SSM also provides communities and developers with expertise in the field of salt-tolerant crops and regional surveys of native plants; including their domestication, installation, and maintenance employing feasibility studies, urban planning, and innovative landscape design.  Current halophyte research and development includes (1) sea aster (Aster tripolium), a perennial harvested during the summer months that can be eaten raw or cooked; (2) common purslaine (Portulaca oleracea), a succulent vegetable that has a greenish-reddish coloration and a fleshy stalk; and (3) crystalline ice plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum), an annual of South African origin with salt-encrusted leaves that have a buttery, lemony herbaceous flavor, and fleshy texture.  Researchers at SSM are working on developing more salt-tolerant conventional crops, such as tomatoes and sunflowers, using traditional selection and breeding methods.  SSM, under the auspices of Saline Habitats (a joint venture between Native Resources International and SSM), has recently been awarded the salt-tolerant plant material contract for a new golf course in Puerto Peñasco, with a second contract still under negotiation.

Under the joint implementation and greenhouse gas emissions reduction proposed at the UN Conference for the Environment 1992, an Activities Implemented Jointly (AIJ) project “Halophyte Cultivation” has been initiated in Soñora, Mexico as the first phase in a two-part carbon sequestration project.  The collaboration of Genesis S.A., HEI, the Salt River Project (SRP) and Ecoenergy International Corporation (EIC) involves designing methodologies and quantitative models on carbon accounting and monitoring as well as business and marketing feasibility studies.  The potential uses of S. bigelovii (30 hectares) are being investigated by the ERL, under a project funded by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), in order to generate raw material and data for the technical, market, and economic feasibility of the envisioned 50,000 hectare farm (phase two).  As noted, Salicornia has great potential for food (as green vegetable and edible oil), biomass production, fuel additives, construction material, and livestock supplements.

Sweetwater International has developed a generator (commonly called a sulfur burner) that acidifies irrigation water and de-chlorinates effluent water, an effective tool for managing saline water as well as sodic and saline-sodic soil.  The combined treated water is sufficiently acidic to neutralize the carbonates and bicarbonates and to move sodium off of soil exchange sites, converting salts in the soil to more soluble forms.  Soil structure is improved, promoting germination and root growth of plants, and allowing greater water infiltration and improved percolation so that excess salts can be more easily leached from the soil profile.  With lower levels of dissolved sodium and total salts in the water at the root zone, plants can take up more fertilizer, micronutrients, and other available nutrient ions.  In independent tests conducted with sodic and saline-sodic soils in Morocco, Mexico, Pakistan, and the US, the Sweetwater Solutions Generator has increased average crop yields 30-50% in one growing season.  This technology has also proven effective in generating significant productivity increases for crops such as berries, sugar cane, and tea that thrive in low-pH conditions. 

Desert Energy Research (DER) is a US-based biotechnology company investigating new approaches to seawater irrigated agriculture since 1994.  Their research has resulted in patented culture methods for cultivating strains of a marine seaweed Enteromorpha clathrata, which yields nutritious feed utilizing relatively simple and inexpensive techniques.  This algae, commonly known as green string lettuce or sea hair, contains 40% protein (dry weight basis), roughly equivalent to that of soy meal.  DER expects its primary commercial application to be focused on high-protein animal feed, chiefly for poultry.  Like all dark leafy greens, E. clathrata is an excellent source of carotenoids, including beta-carotene and several xanthophylls (i.e. lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin).  In 1997, DER and its Mexican subsidiary, Algalimentos S.A. de C.V., constructed a number of saltwater ponds on a demonstration farm in Los Mochis, Mexico in order to further test and market their product.  Research is currently focused on issues of composition control and sustainable methods of farm management.


The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) “Global Network on Integrated Soil Management for Sustainable Use of Salt-Affected Soils” promotes selected management practices to be used in the experimental or demonstration components of ongoing collaborative projects between the FAO and national institutes in 22 countries.  These experimental programs are flexible yet specific to the stated objectives of the different collaborative projects and their ongoing local practices.  The following is a brief listing of the ongoing FAO collaborative projects: the Lower Volta Plains in Ghana; the Taveta and Marigat Divisions in Kenya, the semi-arid Sudan Savanna in Nigeria; in Tanzania (two projects), one in the Tanga and Arusha Region started in 1994 and the other at the Kileo Irrigation Scheme in Mwanga District started in 2000; the Khulua and Baguhat Districts in Bangladesh; the management of saline coastal soils in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines; fodder production in Pakistan; the Trans-Tisza Region in Hungary; contaminated soils in Romania; the Kocas Region of the Great Konya Basin in Turkey; the Lower Rio Colorado Valley in Argentina; the Middle Sao Francisco River Valley in Brazil; the Cauto Valley in Cuba; the El-Crrizo Valley District in Mexico; in Egypt (two projects), one on the use of organic manures started in 1991 and the other on rehabilitation technologies started in1998; sugarbeet and cotton production in Iran; the Euphrates River Valley in Syria; and the Nahal Oasis of Gabes in Tunisia.

Ocean Desert Enterprises (ODE), a subsidiary of the Institute for Environmental and Systems Analysis (IMSA) based in the Netherlands, was formed to develop a new systems approach to the restoration of saline dryland regions with the help of saltwater agriculture and forestry.  ODE’s approach to sustainable agriculture and ‘greening the deserts’ utilizes saltwater irrigation in order to cultivate halophytes and other salt-tolerant plants.  This innovative approach reduces the pressure on scarce freshwater supplies and simultaneously returns productive life to barren lands.  In collaboration with its sister company Saline Seed Mexico, ODE has commercialized biosaline technology in the form of halophytic crops for food, fiber, landscaping (groundcover) and much more, all in regions where traditional crops cannot be grown.  ODE is currently exploring the establishment of a large integrated biosaline demonstration project in
Jordan which if successful could be financed by interested donor agencies. 

The European Union Concerted Action Program on “Sustainable Halophyte Utilization in the Mediterranean and Subtropical Dry Regions” is being coordinated jointly with the University of Osnabrueck (USF), the University of Giessen, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute, and the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (cosponsored by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Office (MAB)).  As of 1997, 14 institutions in the Mediterranean region have been involved in assessing (1) the basic salinity and climatic requirements of halophytes, (2) the use of selected species for landscape management, sand dune stabilization, habitat restoration (‘greenification’), and (3) the ecological sustainability and economic feasibility of using certain halophytes for food, fodder/forage, biomass production (carbon sequestration), construction materials, and the production of fine chemicals.  In 2000, the USF opened a new state-of-the-art halophyte greenhouse in order to facilitate the collection of suitable species and research on optimal irrigation practices; saline irrigation systems have already been established in Sicily, Tunisia, and Morocco.  Recent efforts include halophyte utilization in the Aral Sea basin.

The SALTMED Project was established and funded, by DGXII of the European Commission under the INCO-DC program, to increase the productivity and sustainability of irrigated vegetable cropping in areas which have intrinsically, or potentially, saline water supplies.  The SALTMED Project team includes the University of Sussex’s Plant Stress Unit, the Center for Ecology and Hydrology (
UK), the University of Menofeia (Eygpt), the Arab Center for Studies of Arid Zone and Drylands (ACSAD), and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (Spain).  The SALTMED Project provides (1) guidelines for farmers based on experimental results and reliable water/soil/plant models, (2) genetic material that combines improved salt-tolerance with economically-viable agronomic characteristics, and (3) scientific knowledge about the physiology and genetics of salt-tolerance of certain field crops that may be generally applicable to others.  Consultancy services include guidelines and management tools for field managers, the assessment of salt-affected soil reclamation, and long-term salinity impacts.  Open-field projects in Syria and Egypt are focused on enhancing salt-tolerance in tomatoes (Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium) for commercial cultivation through advanced physiological and molecular methods.  The recent SALTMED International Workshop on Sustainable Strategies for Irrigation in Salt-Prone Mediterranean Region: A System Approach outlines how poor quality irrigation water can be managed effectively for growing selected crops.

Formerly part of the Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge, the John Innes Center (JIC) located in Norwich, UK is engaged in the study and improvement of cereal grains, in particular wheat.  The JIC mission is to contribute to enhancing scientific knowledge, the quality of life, and economic well-being by (1) conducting research and training related to the understanding and exploitation of plants and microorganisms, (2) providing knowledge, technology, and trained scientists to meet the needs of users and beneficiaries, and (3) providing advice, disseminating knowledge, and promoting public understanding in the relevant areas of the biological and chemical sciences.  In conjunction with the
UK Overseas Development Administration (ODA), the JIC has developed new salt-tolerant wheat cultivars by crossing salt-excluding and salt-sequestering varieties (from Pakistan and India), and then crossing their hybrid offspring with maize.

At the Scottish Crops Research Institute (SCRI), genetic and physiological components of abiotic stress tolerance are being studied by a multidisciplinary team using barley as a model.  The strategy involves: (1) measuring for response variation to abiotic stress in wild barley genotypes (Hordeum spontaneum); (2) genetically fingerprinting these lines; (3) finding associations between physiological adjustment and genetic markers; and (4) mapping the trait loci involved by using genetically-mapped barley doubled-haploid populations.  The SCRI’s strategy involves the genetic fingerprinting of 39 wild barley lines from Israel, Turkey and Iran, and testing for responses to abiotic stresses under controlled conditions.  Multiple regression analysis is then used to identify genetic markers associated with experimentally determined stress responses.  These markers were found to be associated with site-of-origin or eco-geographic data (particularly longitude), the more salt-tolerant lines coming from the southeastern area of the Fertile Crescent.  Visiting researchers have begun work on a genetically engineered salt-tolerant species of rapeseed which over-express enzymes that are inhibited by excess salts. 

The Servicio de Investigacion Agroalimentaria (SIA), located in Zaragoza, is the scientific investigation center of the Department of Agriculture and Environment of the Provincial Government of Aragon (DGA) in northeastern Spain.  The Soils and Irrigation Unit (Unidad de Suelos y Riegos) works on topics associated with irrigation, soils, and salinity throughout the province, and in particular the Ebro River Valley.  The SIA has established an international reputation for understanding plant salt-stress, employing its world-class facilities for the assessment and analysis of soil and irrigation water salinity.  Particularly noteworthy are a number of demonstration sites that allow for the study of salinity effects on crops under controlled field conditions.

The Center for Arid Zone Studies (CAZS), located in Bangor, UK, was established to promote integrated natural resource development on arid and semi-arid lands, and to provide technological and scientific innovations that improve the allocation and management of these resources.  The CAZS is a semi-autonomous department within the University of Wales, which brings together their accumulated knowledge and experience to work on finding solutions to some of these challenges.  With 23 core natural resources specialists, 15 support staff and 30 associate members drawn from other parts of the university, it has been actively involved in a wide range of research and development projects world-wide, including participatory plant breeding and salinity management schemes in Africa and Asia.  The Center, which also manages the UK Plant Sciences Research Program, has been involved in studies on combating desertification and soil degradation, rural sustainability, and various agro-ecosystem projects. 

Intellicrops (formerly known as ScropS) is a Belgian company that offers select halophytic germplasm and consultancy services for the establishment of salt-tolerant plants on marginal lands.  Research is focused on greenhouse (hydroponics) production, phytoremediation, and agro-aquaculture applications as well as breeding programs to improve sea aster (Aster tripolium) for both human food (small and tender leaves) and animal forage (prolific and broad foilage).  The use of regenerative techniques and in-vitro propagation has proven to be a rapid and reliable method for designing uniform plant materials including Aster, Salicornia, and Crambe.  Since its inception, Intellicrops has been active in establishing halophytic cultures in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Middle East

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) initiated a multinational project in 1997 ~ known as the “Sustainable Utilization of Saline Groundwater and Wastelands for Plant Production” ~ in order to introduce and domesticate halophytes for commercial crop production throughout North Africa and the Middle East.  The number of species chosen for each country varies with their potential in providing economic benefits and environmental improvements.  Irrigation with saline water, whether from the ground or the sea, is key to the reduced costs and eventual success of sustainable halophyte cultivation.  Inputs such as fertilizers were virtually eliminated as most of the species selected (nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs) can derive sufficient nutrition from the inorganic minerals in saline water.  Initial demonstration sites were established in Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, and the UAE: in total, there were 20 sites with 63 plant species covering 441 hectares of wastelands as well as 251 farmers using the technology on 582 hectares of their own land.  A unique feature of the IAEA project is the utilization of nuclear techniques to monitor irrigation and salt accumulation, and isotopic analysis to estimate the quality of groundwater recharge.  Phase I of this project has been tremendously successful and the initiative is currently being expanded to include large tracts of wasteland, new species and other regional habitats throughout Africa and the Middle East. 

The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai, UAE was established in 1996 with funding from the Islamic Development Bank and additional support from the OPEC Fund for International Development, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, and the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  ICBA’s mission is (1) to demonstrate the value of saline water resources for the production of environmentally and economically useful plants; (2) to generate new knowledge and technology in biosaline agriculture; and (3) to gather, synthesize, and disseminate information to all interested parties.  The ICBA is dedicated to building strong partnerships and linkages with national programs, regional and international research centers, development agencies (such as UNESCO), and private sector companies.  Recently the ICBA and the UAE Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) have established a long-term field project at ICBA headquarters to test and monitor the salt-tolerance of the most popular varieties of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), with plans to create a living gene bank for the future. 

A joint research program between the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, UAE University and the Sheikh Zayed International Agricultural and Environmental Program has been investigating halophytes that show good forage potential for use in large-scale irrigated production systems, and has identified Sporobolus grass (Sporobolus virginicus) as having significant promise for the future.  Agronomic studies at the Zayed demonstration farm have showed that Sporobolus can be grown with irrigation water containing up to 20,000 ppm (TDS) – far beyond that tolerated by Rhodes grass and other traditional forage crops grown in the region.  With sizeable yields and a relatively low ash content (which reflects salt accumulation in plant tissue), Sporobolus grass could dramatically increase the productivity of underutilized saline environments and increase forage production for domestic animals and wildlife.  In just 16 weeks, the Zayed Project for Seawater Irrigation has transformed twenty square kilometers meters of coastal desert into a lush wonderland of exotic greenery and sprawling lakes.  Three separate 200 cubic meter reservoirs – one for seawater, one for fresh water, and one mixed – are controlled by valves and relays that deliver water to plants and lakes through a network of underground pipes and tubes.  The more than 22,000 specimens included, representing nearly 40 varieties of the genetically engineered plants, thrive at different levels of salinity.  Those planted closest to the seashore thrive in pure seawater while those on the upper half of the garden flourish on a mix of seawater and freshwater, diluted to about 20,000 ppm.

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES) is a regional center for post-graduate education and environmental leadership that encourages cooperation among the peoples of the Middle East.  The AIES is dedicated to peace and sustainable development at all levels.  The Institute is located in Isreal’s Arava Valley, a desert in the Syrio-African rift near the Jordanian/Egyptian borders and the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat.  The AIES also sponsors the joint Israel-Jordan Biodiversity Research Project and is a major contributing partner in the USAID-MERC program.

The US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Grant Program (Project M-20-0-18), in collaboration with the AIES, is investigating ten salt- and drought-resistant plants, and their viability as new commercial crops for the barren areas of Israel and Morocco.  The ten species ~ argania (Argania spinosa), carob (Ceratoonia siliqua), almond (Prunis almygdalus), capers (Capparis spinosa), mustard capers (Capparis sinaica), Indian date (Zisiphus mauritania), cactus apple (Cereus peruvianes), neem (Azdirachta indica), sapodilla (Manilkara zapota) and marula (Schelcarya caffra var. bierra) ~ have been introduced to quarantine and planted on suitable demonstration sites and test farms.  The survival and productivity of these plants in orchard/agro-forestry and irrigated/non-irrigated formats will indicate whether a species is hardy enough to warrant further investigation and development.  Moreover, this project has the potential to improve the sustainability of rural activities in the arid and saline regions of both countries, and the joint effort will allow them to benefit from each country's plant research by doubling the number of crop candidates.  Cooperation will also facilitate the transfer and adaptation of existing irrigation technologies to new crops and sites.  Finally, successful varieties and appropriate technologies can be extended to individual farmers in these areas for integration into existing farms, and the establishment of new agricultural enterprises. 

Several institutes at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) are dedicated to developing innovative approaches to biosaline agriculture.  The Institute for Agriculture & Applied Biology was established in 1975, with the overall objective of promoting new means of production for the agricultural and biotechnological industries of the
Negev.  The main specialization of the Institute lies in the domestication and development of arid land crops: fruit and nut trees, salt-tolerant industrial crops, new desert vegetables, and drought-tolerant landscape plants.  Some of the major applied achievements to date include the (1) large-scale utilization of saline water for field irrigation, (2) landscaping and afforestation using halophytes and other salt-tolerant plants, (3) improved flavor and quality of tomatoes and melons, and (4) development of jojoba and new fruit-bearing cactus species.  The Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research (BIDR), established in Sede Boqer in 1974, is carrying out vital research for promoting sustainable agriculture in the Negev Desert, and for combating desertification in Israel, the Middle East, and the world over.  The 55 scientists, 150 Israeli and foreign researchers, and 50 permanent technical and administrative staff of the BIDR constitute a balanced blend of basic and applied research, addressing national, regional, and global problems.  These diverse research and advanced training activities are carried out in the laboratories, research stations, and field research sites in the Negev.  Based at BGU, the International Program for Arid Land Crops (IPALAC), which is jointly funded by UNESCO, Finland's Foreign Ministry and Israel's Center for International Development Cooperation, is an integral part of the BGU’s attempts to combat desertification and create sustainable (and profitable) agriculture in the world's arid and semi-arid regions.

The UAE Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) has successfully completed the large-scale experimental cultivation of native gray mangroves (Avicennia marina) with discharged seawater from aquaculture tanks and ponds, along the sandy drainage areas of the Marine Resources Research Center (MRRC) in Umm Al Qaiwain.  Although mangrove reforestation efforts are being undertaken in many tropical countries, few projects have been initiated in desert coastal regions (sabkhas) due to a lack of necessary plant nutrients.  Since its inception in 1985, several factors have contributed to the growth of healthy and robust stands over the ten year project period.  First, the gray mangrove, native to the UAE, exhibits relatively high levels of tolerance to salinity when compared to other species.  Second, in addition to the essential mineral-rich seawater, discharge water contains organic nutrient-rich excrement of fish and shrimp which was identified as critical to the vigorous growth of mangroves.  And third, the labor-intensive management of the young seedlings and trees in the first three years, including waste/algae removal and sandstorm protection, was also deemed essential for the success of the project.  The MRRC now recognizes the tremendous potential for protecting and greening the sabkhat through mangrove reforestation and commercial aquaculture operations; these mangrove forests provide a sustainable habitat, nursery, and source of food for many birds and aquatic species. 

The Ramat Negev Desert Agro-Research Center, near Beersheva in Israel, has been in operation since 1981 working in collaboration with scientists from the BGU, the Hebrew University Faculty of Agriculture, the Volcani Institute and others.  The aim of the Center is to respond to the immediate needs of local farmers, when necessary, through field trials and on-site experimentation.  The Center’s intention is to apply the technology developed, and transfer the knowledge gained to any place, especially in the developing countries facing similar agricultural constraints.  Research on the salt-tolerance of more than 25 open-field vegetables includes the large-scale production of melons on sandy soils and tomatoes in greenhouses where a clear improvement in quality of many fruits was recognized, particularly their sugar content, taste, and shelf life (strawberries and peppers are currently under study).  A number of different orchard species were also tested for salinity resistance, including olives, pears, almonds, grapes, pomegranates, jujube, argania, and others.  The Center’s approach to overcoming salt-stress is comprised of (1) physiological studies on the period of maximum susceptibility when small amounts of fresh water are given to plants at their most sensitive moment, (2) pedological monitoring of salt leaching in soils and studies on the optimum composition, quantities, and intervals of irrigation, (3) nutritional analysis to alleviating stress through different fertilizer application techniques, (4) the development of genetically engineered salt-tolerant cultivars by crossing superior varieties with salt-resistant genotypes, and perhaps most important (5) drip (micro) irrigation systems that ensure a continuous flow of water and maintain constant levels of salts in soil moisture.

The Arab Center for Studies of Arid Zone and Drylands (ACSAD) is a regional organization for research and studies pertaining to the development of the arid and semi-arid areas of the Arab World.  It was established in Damascus, Syria in 1971 within the framework of the League of Arab States, and is governed by the Council of Arab Ministers of Agriculture.  The ACSAD is primarily concerned with (1) developing plant production in the arid and semi-arid areas through improved genetic resources, (2) surveying, collecting, evaluating, and conserving these hereditary plant materials, (3) development programs that utilize the desirable genetic traits of cereals, fruit trees, range plants, and forages which are salt- and drought-tolerant, and (4) evaluating the environmental situation with a particular emphasis on the relationship between renewable resources and population growth. 

The Negev Foundation is a US-based non-profit foundation that supports proven scientific technological and human innovations, and promotes sustainable desert development including many agricultural practices applied successfully in Israel.  Marshalling a diverse mix of not-for-profit and for-profit entities, the Foundation brings together the private farmer, research stations, commercial growers, academic institutions, foreign investors, and generous benefactors committed to sustainable economic growth.  The Foundation also encourages economic self-sufficiency, replacing philanthropic support with business ventures and income derived from the sale of technology whenever possible.  Through its for-profit affiliate, Desert Sweet Technologies, it has solicited the interest of several major US vegetable and fruit growers and distributors, linking US agribusinesses with Negev enterprises and coordinating the first transfer of Israeli agricultural technology to Native American Indian production systems.  Since its inception, the Foundation has provided over $5 million in funding to, among others, the Ramat Negev Desert Agro-Research Center for capital projects, research studies, and technology transfers, the Arava Growers for the export of Desert Sweet™ brackish-water irrigated produce, and the Phelps Dodge Mining Company for feasibility studies that explore the use of Israeli desert agro-technologies in the southwestern US.

The UNESCO Office Doha in Qatar actively promotes the development of productive ecosystems based on saline irrigation and the use of halophytic crops.  Its aim is to assist member states to establish pilot farms for the utilization of mangroves, and projects to establish halophyte plantations using seawater irrigation systems have already been initiated in
Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Qatar.  The long-term goal of this coordinated effort is the plantation of mangrove forests for ecological rehabilitation and economic utilization as well as the conversion of sabkhat into highly productive man-made agro-ecosystems.  With the support of the UNESCO Office Doha, the first comprehensive study of the current situation entitled Sabkha Ecosystems Volume I: The Arabian Peninsula was published by Kluwer Academic Publishers in 2002.

The Action Plan Negev development project was inaugurated in 1995 and gives top national priority to the development of the Negev Desert in southern Israel with its some 40,000 residents located in 100 rural settlements.  The JNF, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Jewish Agency joined together to implement this important five-year project.  One of the objectives of the project is to meet increased food demands by developing intensive fish farming as an economically profitable enterprise whereby water from the fish ponds is recycled to irrigate other farm crops.  The Negev offers a decisive advantage in that olive groves can be irrigated with this effluent water or with brackish water pumped from local wells.  Studies have shown that citrus groves irrigated with brackish water can produce higher yields without compromising quality.  The JNF is responsible for reclaiming and developing agricultural wastelands, and constructing large water reservoirs in the Negev and Arava regions.  In addition, "hothouse parks" are being constructed to demonstrate the advantages of these advanced technologies in assisting the region's farmers.


The Desert Development Foundation's Seawater Farms Eritrea (SFE), located on the coast of the Red Sea, was a $10 million commercial joint venture between the now defunct Seaphire International and the Government of Eritrea Ministry of Fisheries, the first large-scale integrated approach to aquaculture and agro-ecosystem management for economic gain.  The project, now on hold because of the political situation in Eritrea, began by cutting a huge channel from the Red Sea in order to provide seawater to 230 land-based tanks for raising shrimp, and three artificial salt lakes that hold tilapia and nourish 200,000 mangroves on its shores; effluent water is then used to irrigate fields of Salicornia bigelovii, and other commercial and conservation halophytes.  The saline discharge then drains into parklands, forested by several varieties of mangroves and sheltering innumerable species of flora and fauna which provide controlled grazing areas for domestic animals like goats and camels.  The goal of the project was to plant 2,500 hectares of field crops and over two million new mangrove trees, and develop a sustainable cycle of use and proper management of wastewater.  This was the first commercial-scale integrated seawater farm which also funded associated research facilities and the development of processing/distribution facilities.  In its initial operations, SFE marketed and distributed shrimp and fish to European markets as a way of earning hard currency.  In the long run, they hoped to replicate this farm many times up and down the coast of the Red Sea, sharing this technology with other nations in the region in order to provide a dependable and renewable source of food for people and livestock.  Scientists from the SFE have focused their recent efforts on developing high-yielding Salicornia varieties (5.6 tons of seed per hectare), inland mangrove nurseries, and advanced halophyte breeding lines for future domestication programs in Mexico and India.

Another Desert Development Foundation project, the Seawater Forests Initiative (SFI), situated near the seaport of Massawa, Eritrea by the Red Sea is still somewhat operational.  The newly planted mangroves have already significantly increased the diversity of wildlife in the area where about 250 species of birds have been sighted and various species of fish have rediscovered the ideal breeding conditions in the warm and shallow waters of the reconstructed habitats.  The SFI also provides rural women and children with education programs that offer them the training needed to be able to manage their new forests.  The fodder from mangrove leaves enables the local communities to raise goats for milk and cheese.  The production of honey is another downstream benefit that comes from the sustainable management of these new forests.  By planting new mangrove forests and rehabilitating degraded ones, the SFI attempts to recreate micro-climates that make the region more livable and contribute to the reversal of global environmental threats.  In addition to the more traditional forestry programs, the SFI has initiated supplemental production techniques involving the intercropping of mangrove trees with other halophytes for food and essential ground cover.

The International Program for Arid Land Crops (IPALAC) is an outgrowth of an approach used by BGU in the development of Israel's Negev Desert.  Since its establishment in 1995, the IPALAC has introduced thousands of plant species and evaluated their potential for filling a niche in the Israeli context, either as crops or for environmental enhancement, such as landscaping and afforestation.  The Program seeks to promote sustainable economic development in desert-prone regions through the judicious use of plants, associated technologies, and human innovations.  Its goal is to "act as a catalyst for biodiversity utilization" by bringing together existing national and international research institutions, NGOs, and other parties to form coalitions to develop, evaluate, and implement plant-based environmental and development projects.  The IPALAC has initiated a number of field projects, with particular emphasis on the needs of Africa and the Middle East, including: (1) Improved Diguette ~ combined agroforestry/water harvesting techniques for soil and water conservation in rain-fed systems based on drought-tolerant mulch plants (on-going pilot projects in Mali and Burkina Faso); (2) Halophyte Diguette ~ similar techniques for reclamation of salinized lands using salt-tolerant and halophytic plants (research and pilot programs in Senegal); (3) Dates for the Sahel ~ comprehensive five-year program aimed at the large-scale introduction of date palm cultivation in seven Sahelian countries (Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger and Chad); (4) Domestication of Balanites aegyptica (kulan) ~ an oil producing salt- and drought-tolerant tree; (5) Domestication of Vittelaria paradoxa (karité or shea) ~ a fruit and oil producing tree; and (6) "African Silk" ~ investigating the potential of introducing drought-tolerant mulberry trees (Morus alba) and saline sericulture to the Sudano-Sahelian Regions of West Africa.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) was established in 1972 with a mandate to enhance the livelihoods of the poor in semi-arid farming systems through integrated genetic and natural resource management strategies.  The Institute’s research is focused on (1) making major food crops more productive, nutritious, and affordable to the poor; (2) diversifying utilization options for staple food crops; (3) developing tools and techniques to manage risk and natural resources in the semi-arid tropics; (4) developing options to diversify income generation; and (5) strengthening information and delivery systems to target populations.  Taking note of the exceptional adaptability of the date palm in the arid regions, the ICRISAT and its partners began promoting its commercial cultivation among low-income Sahelian communities.  In 1997, the “Dates for the Sahel” project was implemented in partnership with the IPALAC, and is being administered by the BGU, FAO, AGRHYMET (a regional agricultural and meteorological organization), and the national agricultural research systems of Burkina Faso (INERA), Niger (INRAN), Mali (IER), and Senegal (ISRA).  As a result, two new farming systems have been introduced and are now being tested.  The "African Market Garden" incorporates a gravity-drip irrigation system that has recently been developed for poor farmers as well as a holistic approach that combines low-input technologies, agro-forestry, cereal production, and biotechnology.  The second, called the "Sahelian Eco-Farm", is based on rainfed lands that incorporate a large number of multi-purpose perennial species, each providing different marketable products and services within in a single field.

The Phoenix Research Station (PRS), also known as the Research Station on the Date Palm and the Farming Systems in Arid Zones, was founded in 1991 through an agreement signed by the following French and Spanish research bodies: the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), the Instituto National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), the Regional Ministry for Agriculture of Valencia, the Elche City Council, and the University of Alicante.  The PRS was created to: (1) contribute to the protection of the only existing European date palm grove and (2) to promote research, training, and technical assistance for the development of date palm culture and oasis agriculture.  The PRS is currently involved in a project to develop oasis agriculture in the
Sahel, particularly in the Aïr region (Niger) where the recent creation of gardens allows the Touareg nomads to cope with future droughts.  The development of oasis farming systems that bring together gardens and nomadic livestock breeding which can reduce the dramatic consequences of drought while innovative date palm cultivation could contribute to food security, employment, and desertification control in many Sahelian countries.

The Manazar Project on the northern
Red Sea coast of Eritrea, first implemented in 1988, is a privately-funded humanitarian effort based on the premise that coastal deserts can be converted to rich agricultural fields through the culture of microscopic algae (blue-green) in seawater ponds, and the plantation of mangrove species.  Preliminary results suggest that rational man-made approaches, such as saltwater desert agriculture, have the potential to compensate for deforestation and salinization in tropical areas.  First, artificial mangrove swamps were created by digging large areas to the depth of one foot below average high-tide levels.  Fast-growing species, which grow into two meter shrubs in about six months, were planted using fruit and propagules.  In turn, these mangrove forests provide nourishment and shelter for large numbers of fish, shrimp and crab which feed indirectly on the decomposing leaves.  Next to the mangrove swamps, deeper ponds were dug and fertilized with a mixture of camel and goat excrement.  Subsequent algae growth supports mullet, milkfish, and other species related to the algae-mud eating carp.  These fish grow from the fingerling stage to one pound in about four months when they are harvested and shipped to the highlands.  The viscera and heads are used to feed crab, shrimp, and carnivorous fish cultured in other coastal ponds or in cages anchored off shore.

Founded in 1983, SOS Sahel (a UK-based NGO) supports community actions and initiatives that focus on the conservation of natural resources and increasing small-scale food production for rural people in the Sahelian zone of sub-Saharan Africa.  The SOS Sahel-sponsored Community Forestry Project in Ed Debba, Sudan is funded in part by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Sudan.  In cooperation with the Sudanese Forests National Corporation (FNC), SOS Sahel has educated people in 27 villages surrounding Ed Debba on the need for an anti-desertification program and its proper implementation.  The Project involves the creation of a mesquite shelter-belt and a eucalyptus wind-break that reduces the amount of sand blown from the dunes onto agricultural fields and into the villages.  This simple solution, using hearty, deep-rooting trees to stand as a barrier between the people and the desert, has resulted in 1,556 acres of land being saved from desertification between 1988 and 1995.  While SOS Sahel predicts that over $3 million could be generated annually by planting these reclaimed areas with date palms, the gains already made are considered impressive.  New boreholes have facilitated the access to clean drinking water, and the reclaimed land has been used to provide substantial productive and recreational benefits to the community.

The Interspecific Hybridization Project (IHP) was started in 1997 with support from the Japanese Government, the Rockefeller Foundation and the UNDP in order to further the achievements of the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) in producing fertile offspring of crosses between indigenous African rice (Oryza glaberrima) and Asian rice (Oryza sativa).  A small number of native rice varieties, with increased resistance and tolerance to salt and other abiotic stresses, were selected for their potential compatibility with O. sativa.  After many initial failures to cross the two, a few well-nurtured offspring produced enough seed in order to successfully backcross the hybrid with O. sativa, ensuring reasonable fertility before deciding to adopt anther culture to genetically fix the lines.  The first true-breeding interspecific lines were made available for field tests in 1994 and this new variety, known as New Rice for Africa (NERICA), is now being grown on a number of farms throughout West Africa.  Another feature of the IHP is the adoption of Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) which established demonstration plots in target villages with the goal of exposing the greatest number of farmers to these new varieties.  By 1999, ten West African countries were conducting the PVS process on their own, and seven NERICA varieties had been adopted on a large-scale in
Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea.


The Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (CSSRI), located in Karnal, Harayana, was established by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 1969 as a national facility for systematic research on salinity and alkalinity.  The CSSRI is dedicated to pursuing interdisciplinary approaches to salinity management and the use of poor quality irrigation waters in different agro-ecosystems which has led to the recommended provision of sub-surface drainage.  After small-scale operational studies, large-scale pilot projects were launched to install drainage in problem areas, particularly in the northwest regions of India.  The CSSRI’s mission is to generate a new understanding of reclamation processes, and develop technologies for improving and sustaining the productivity of saline soil and water.  The Institute’s activities can be summarized as follows: (1) alternate land uses for salt-affected soils, which includes identifying the potential benefits of salt-tolerant tree species for biomass production, nodulation, nitrogen fixation, and nutrient recycling as well as furrow and augerhole techniques for afforestation; (2) improvement of crop resistance to abiotic stresses including a number of salt-tolerant breeding programs for rice, wheat, mustard and gram (several varieties already adopted by farmers); and (3) management of saline coastal soils which includes new field varieties, improved cropping systems, and efficient nutrient management as well as rainwater harvesting and an integrated freshwater rice/aquaculture.  Of the 32 salt-tolerant rice varieties developed so far, the first dwarf high-yielding early maturing rice varieties (CSR10 and CSR11) have proved popular as biological amendments for resource-poor farmers and are being used as a low-cost technology for salt-affected soils.  CSR13 (CSR1/Bas 370//CSR5) is well-adapted to alkaline (pH 9.2-10.0) and inland saline soils (up to 9 dS/m EC), and shows improved resistant to major pests and diseases.

The GSFC Science Foundation (an NGO of the Gujarat State Fertilizer Corporation) had entered into an agreement with Seaphire International to establish and develop a number of agro-aquaculture complexes in Gujarat.  The Gujarat Agricultural University (GAU) has been in the process of setting up of four demonstration units at Mundra (Kutchh), Mahuva (Saurashtra), Chorwad (Saurashtra), and Danti-Ubharat (South Gujarat).  These complexes consist of (1) coastal mangrove plantation and wetland development, (2) aquaculture operations producing shrimp and other value-added aquatic species, and (3) field plantings of Salicornia bigloveii, a versatile saltwater plant with a number of commercial uses including edible oil, nutritious fodder, and particle board for construction.  The GAU, along with its partners the GSFC Science Foundation, Desert Development Foundation, M.S. Swaminathan Foundation (MSSRF), Kutchh Farmers Cooperatives & other Indian NGOs, plans to initiate and support individual projects through a consortium approach by setting up coastal agro-aquaculture complexes in the wastelands of Bhachau & Mundra with the potential for future economic returns and long-term rehabilitation.

The Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), established in 1954 under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in Bhavanagar, Gujarat, is currently focused on developing commercially important agarophytes, alginophytes, and carrageenophytes as well as non-traditional, oil-bearing species such as Salicornia, Salvadora, Jatropha, and Jojoba for coastal wasteland development.  Specific objectives include the improvement of plant varieties through natural selection and biotechnology, with the aim of creating elite species for the cost-effective and sustainable production of phyto-chemicals.  The CSMCRI has recently developed a proprietary process for the extraction of salt from Salicornia brachaita, a healthy and mineral-rich alternative to sea salt.  A demonstration project in the coastal village of Hathab (Saurashtra) has achieved yields of 1200-1500 kilograms of seed and 12-15 metric tons of biomass per hectare, producing approximately 3-4 metric tons of vegetable salt. 

Under the Rajiv Gandhi National Water Mission (Sujalam), the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has established electrodialysis plants that provide safe drinking water to problem villages in the Barmer district of Rajasthan.  Freshwater is scarce in Rajasthan with the endemic problem of high salinity in ground water.  The nutrient slurry retained after electrodialysis contains high levels of mineral solids, which are being utilized as fertilizer for plants resistant to high salt concentrations.  The following salt-tolerant plants, shrubs, and trees have been identified and planted for environmentally sustainable agro-forestry and desert “greenification” (Albizia acculeata, Azadirachta indica, Acacia tortilis, Perkinsonia acculeata, Leucanea lucocephala, Cassia samia, Acacia salicina and Tamarix articulate).  Certain species of “moderately” salt-tolerant vegetables and other edible plants have also been identified, including radish, spinach, cabbage, bottle gourd, brinjal (eggplant), and bitter gourd.

The M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and its Genetic Enhancement Center for Costal Ecosystems, located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, is supported and funded by the Indian Government and various NGO’s.  The objectives of the Foundation are to (1) genetically characterize coastal bio-resources, in particular mangroves; (2) identify, isolate, and describe genetic combinations from mangroves; (3) provide distinct pre-breeding material; and (4) develop location- specific crop varieties offering resistance/tolerance to coastal salinity.  Developing crop varieties with these traits is among its major objectives, and the MSSRF was the first to propose that mangroves can be invaluable donors for breeding salt-tolerant crop genotypes through recombinant DNA technology.  The identification and isolation of novel genetic combinations, with implications for abiotic stress reduction, were undertaken from the widely distributed mangrove Avicennia marina and the wild rice Porteresia coarctata.  Transgenic commercial crops such as tobacco, rice, blackgram and mustard are now being developed.  In October 2003, the program “Seawater Farming for Coastal Prosperity” was initiated in the village of Thondaikadu, along the hyper-saline coastal region of Tiruvarur, Tamil Nadu, where villagers are given economic incentives to develop water harvesting systems, protect and enhance prawn stocks, cultivate mangroves and other halophytes for food, medicine, and industrial uses.  In November 2003, the MSSRF announced the initial success of extensive greenhouse trials with transgenic rice varieties modified with salt-tolerant genes from native mangroves
("grown in water three times as salty as seawater"), and that field tests will begin shortly. 

The Department of Agronomy, Punjab Agricultural University (
PAU), in Ludhiana, India, was created in 1962 along the lines of the US land-grant universities with well-established laboratory facilities, a large germplasm collection, and ample land resources.  The Department of Agronomy is currently carrying out a program for the evaluation of cotton and berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum) germplasm response to abiotic stresses.  The Plant Breeding Department at PAU has produced many popular crop varieties in India, including the salt-tolerant wheat known as WL711 which has been successfully introduced into Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The Soil Science Department has developed various amendment technologies that have allowed for the reclamation of over 700,000 hectares of saline and alkaline soils in northwest India.

The Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) in Rajasthan, promotes animal husbandry and the intercropping of vegetables or fruit trees with salt-tolerant perennials as the most viable farming model for arid, drought-prone regions.  Since its establishment in 1959, the CAZRI, funded primarily by the ICAR, has successfully developed and improved dozens of traditional and non-traditional crops, like drought-resistant grasses and trees (Ber, Neem, Khajeri, and Rohira) which help prevent soil erosion.  The Acacia
senegal, imported from Africa 25 years ago, has adapted well to local conditions and the Institute has developed an etheline compound which, when injected, increases its gum production by 25-35%.  Improved varieties of pearl millet, clusterbean, moth bean, and horsegram developed at the Institute have also been released for large-scale plantings.  One of its major thrusts is the rehabilitation of wastelands created by the large-scale mining of minerals, like limestone and gypsum.  Technologies integrating appropriate plant species, cropping methods, soil amendments and water harvesting have increased crop yields and revitalized wastelands.  Furthermore, researchers have identified several tree species that can be planted on land contaminated by chemicals used in the printing and dyeing industries.  For dune stabilization, the CAZRI has established shelterbelts consisting of three rows of trees – a central row of tall trees like Albizzia lebbek, with one row of branching trees like Acacia tortolis, Cassia siamea or Prosopis juliflora on either side.

The Northwestern Frontier Province Agricultural University (NWFPAU) in Peshawar has led the way in pioneering the reclamation and rehabilitation of salt-affected lands in Pakistan and India, taking part in a large number of nationally and internationally funded projects.  These projects involve the development of new techniques for growing conventional crops on saline land, as well as the introduction of new varieties of existing crops and new species of trees, shrubs and grasses.  After initial testing and successes on a small-scale, many farmers in the province have now adopted many of these new varieties.  The early work of NWFPAU selected lines from the old variety Blue Silver, and a mutant of the Indian wheat Kharchia, as being more salt-tolerant than others; these seeds were multiplied and supplied to the farmers.  More recently, varieties like Bakhtawar 92 and Kiran 95 have been selected in work funded by the UK Department for International Development (DID) and the European Union (EU).  Other varieties were also identified in this work, including the Indian variety KRL 1-4 which does particularly well under waterlogged conditions as well as selections from the ICARDA and local landraces.  Future trials will test 13 new salt-tolerant lines from the CIMMYT, 40 more from the ICARDA, and a number supplied from the CAZS.  In addition to wheat, they have introduced the highly salt-tolerant barley California Mariout and are working on sunflowers, brassicas (including rapeseed), maize, soybeans, and sugar beet.  The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has been actively supporting research on the rehabilitation of saline lands, both in terms of funds and expertise, through the plantation of salt-tolerant trees and bushes.  In one of these ACIAR projects, 24 different saltbushes were screened, and three (river saltbush, oldman saltbush, and quail brush) were found to be highly productive under saline conditions in the NWFP of Pakistan, producing nearly five tons of forage hay per hectare and significantly lowering the water table in problem areas.  This technique was also successfully demonstrated at Amankot, by planting red river gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) on five hectares where the water table has dropped nearly five feet in four years.  The NWFPAU is experimenting with kallar grass (Leptochloa fusca) which provides nutritious forage and potential reclamation benefits.

The Halophyte Biology Laboratory at the University of Karachi is engaged in research and greenhouse/field trials to (1) identify cash crop halophytes, (2) gather baseline data on the eco-physiological responses of these potential crops to salinity, (3) demonstrate the applicability of halophyte production systems under the field conditions, and (4) exchange information on the development and use of salt-tolerant plants with others sharing similar concerns.  These research objectives are being accomplished through integrated research collaboration with US and European institutions and locally with the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) and Department of Biochemistry at the University of Karachi.  The laboratory seeks funding from private and public sources whose goal is to enhance the welfare of humans within the balance of global, regional, and local ecologies. 

Since the early 1970’s, major research efforts at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) in Faisalabad, Pakistan have been devoted to increasing the productive utilization of salt-affected soils.  At this time, the concept of biosaline agriculture was introduced in order to rehabilitate saline habitats using salt-tolerant trees, grasses, and crops in successive plantings complimented with an array of conventional and nuclear techniques.  Two Biosaline Research Stations were established to demonstrate these results: the first one was established at Rakh Dera Chahl near Lahore in 1980 on 60 hectares, and the second in 1992, at Pacca near
Faisalabad, on 400 hectares.  A number of salt-tolerant grasses (kallar and sporobolus), trees (eucalyptus and acacia) and food crops (wheat and barley) were grown changing the barren landscape into lush vegetative cover in only a few years time.  In 1996, the NIAB began its collaboration with IAEA providing training courses for professionals and workshops for farmers as well as organizing a grass-roots participatory scheme (Saline Agricultural Farmers Association) whereby producers can play an important part in the rehabilitation of salt-affected lands.

In 2003, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Shell Pakistan launched a mangrove conservation program in the
Indus Basin, specifically in the southern parts of the Sindh.  New plantations are to be established in degraded areas with community participation.  In addition, nurseries will be set up and environmental awareness programs will be launched in schools.  The mangroves on the Indus River Delta and the Arabia Sea harbor innumerable species of birds and sustain a large number of fish species, which provide food for humans, fodder for camels, and timber for construction.  These mangrove forests will provide natural protection to the shore and port, stabilize shorelines, and decrease coastal erosion reducing the dredging needs of the area. 

The Saline Agriculture Research Cell (SARC) at the
University of Agriculture located in Faisalabad, Pakistan, was established in 1987 following earlier work on salt-tolerance which began in the late 1960s.  The SARC has developed a strategy for practical biosaline agriculture, in collaboration with the CAZS and the ACIAR, amongst others.  This work has been successfully demonstrated in a highly degraded 25,000 hectare area near Faisalabad, known as the Joint Satiana Pilot Project.  Thus far, 1,000 acres have been planted with Eucalyptus camaldulensis and 35 acres under Atriplex amnicola.  Within this project, a voluntary body that involves local farmers, the Welfare Association of Salt Land Users (WASLU), has been formed which provides a forum for discussion, subsidizes the purchase of seeds, gypsum and fertilizer, and provides nursery stocks of trees and shrubs for planting on salt-affected lands.  The SARC has also developed two varieties of wheat, SARC1 and SARC3, adapted to saline and saline/sodic soils respectively, which are now available to farmers.

Another project funded by DGXII of the European Commission under the INCO-DC Program is entitled Salinity, Sodicity and Waterlogging Tolerant Wheat in India and Pakistan.  The project addresses the development of wheat varieties tolerant to salinity, sodicity, and waterlogging, both individually and in combination.  It involves extensive field experimentation to ensure that new material is readily acceptable to farmers, and accelerate its adoption in affected areas.  Although a great deal of work has been carried out attempting to breed salt-tolerant wheat varieties, there has been little progress in terms of improved yields at the farm level.  The CAZS is responsible for the overall co-ordination of the project in close association with the PARC.  The main objectives of the project are to (1) identify and develop stress-tolerant wheat genotypes; (2) develop screening techniques for tolerance to combined salinity, sodicity, and waterlogging stresses; (3) identify germplasm for screening and crossing in order to produce agronomically well-adapted wheat varieties, under the supervision of the NWFPAU and the PAU; (4) develop screening procedures under controlled conditions in floodbenches and lysimeters, and in the field under the supervision of the SARC; (5) validate the techniques of farmer participatory variety selection to gauge farmers' responses to the new material; and (6) under the supervision of the JIC, to develop Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs) in wheat for qualities conferring tolerance to stress, and to train developing country breeders in modern techniques such as doubled haploid breeding, single seed descent, etc.

International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines, and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) are now increasingly focused on the development of salt-tolerant rice varieties and have initiated several cross-breeding programs.  These breeding programs are now being accelerated by use of DNA markers (co-segregating with salt-tolerance), some of which have already been identified at the IRRI.  The joint BRRI/IRRI participatory evaluation of salt-tolerant breeding lines, along the southwestern coastal regions of Bangladesh, is taking place with the support of the IFAD.  The objective of this research is to determine the suitability of and local preference for salt-tolerant advanced breeding lines in saline areas through direct farmer participation.  Researchers at Department of Biochemistry, University of Dhaka, are contributing to the BRRI/IRRI effort with transformation protocols that establish marker genes of popular local rice varieties as well as IRRI-derived salt-tolerant strains.  Most rice varieties do not produce osmo-protective compounds, like mannitol and trehalose, which have been shown to protect against salt-stress.  Plant biologists are hoping to transform moderately salt-tolerant rice with osmolyte-producing genes for the further enhancement of salt-tolerance.  Genes like mannitol-1 phosphate dehydrogenase for the production of mannitol and trehalose, as well as synthase and phosphatase for the production of trehalose have been acquired from the IRRI.  Transformation protocol experiments have been started with the mannitol-producing gene in BR 5331 and advanced T. Aman varieties (salt-tolerant monsoonal rice).  Other varieties being introduced and monitored are the popular BR-29 and IRRI salt-tolerant IRS 1500. 

The USAID Biosafety Project was initiated by the US, India, and Bangladesh for the acceleration of agricultural productivity on the vast tracts of coastal land severely affected by salinization.  During the project’s 5 year operational time frame, a salt-tolerant tomato variety developed by researchers at the Universities of California and Toronto is being grown for the first two years at the Horticultural Department of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (
BARI), and will then be crossed with the best of local varieties, followed by further selective breeding.  In the remaining three years, extension workers hope to propagate selected salt-tolerant plants in large-scale field trials. 

The UN Environmental Program, the Xinjiang Institute of Biology, Pedology and Desert Research, and the Chinese Government are conducting extensive rehabilitation projects re-establishing more than 15 salt-tolerant salt cedar varieties (including Tamarix ramosissima) in the southern and western margins of the
Taklimakan Desert which is composed of extremely arid regions with low rainfall and high rates of evapotranspiration.  Tamarix is a unique tree species in that it can live up to 100 years in both waterlogged and saline soils, making it an ideal for reversing environmental degradation.  Under natural conditions, Tamarix disperses its seeds through floodwater during the summer months, and this method was employed to regenerate the species in large areas by controlling and directing water flow from floods.  The re-established Tamarix have been successfully employed in a number of low-cost projects aimed at combating sand dune encroachment, rehabilitating saline/waterlogged soils achieving a vegetative cover of up to 60 per cent within a period of 4 years, increasing the agricultural productivity of grains and cotton, and the sustainable supply of fuel wood (about 5 tons per hectare) and livestock fodder.  Of the total area treated in Jiashi, 5,300 hectares have been returned to agricultural production; the Tamarix plantations act as a “biological pump” to keep the saline water-table well below the surface, allowing crops to be grown in the alleys.  This method of forest and agricultural rehabilitation has now been fully adopted by all four participating counties and is in the initial stages in 50 other counties throughout Xinjiang and Gansu.

Researchers at Hainan University in southern China claim to have successfully completed seawater irrigation trials on beaches using tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers that have been cross-bred or genetically modified for salt-tolerance.  Chinese scientists have long been experimenting on irrigating wheat and rice with seawater in vast areas of the coastal provinces.  According to reports, the government is now promoting experiments from the Yellow River Delta to the Pearl River Delta.  Employing bioengineering methods like cloning or “pollen canal techniques”, researchers at the Institute of Genetics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) claim to have  induced a salt-tolerant hereditary elements – isolated genes from Atriplex hortensis and Escherichia coli – into rice, wheat, tobacco and other commercial crops.  The pollen tube method involves the transfer of DNA from halophytic plants, such as mangrove and the recently discovered salt cress (Thellungiella halophila), through a tube to the ovary during fertilization, thus producing a salt-tolerant transgenic plant.  The Hainan University researchers maintain that transgenic progeny have survived, irrigated with seawater, for four generations with comparable yields and nutritional levels.  Cultivating some 80 species, a halophyte demonstration garden has been recently established in Shandong Province.

An independent International Association (INTAS) formed by the European Community is currently sponsoring “the use of halophyte species diversity for the rehabilitation of salt-affected soils and the production of biologically active compounds in the Aral Sea region” (Project #13).  The project’s aim is to make use of halophytes for the reclamation of degraded ecosystems; its originality is in the integration of agricultural, economic, medical, and environmental approaches within a single unified scientific framework.  The main objectives are the (1) selection of desert halophytes on the basis of their capacity for sustained growth in harsh environments, (2) study of stress-tolerance mechanisms and biomass production, (3) determination of the pharmacological values of selected plants by analyzing the chemical composition and structure of their phenolic compounds, and (4) integration of selected species in a strategy of land rehabilitation by salt and contaminate removal.  Project partners from the Institutes of Plant Physiology in
Russia and Kazakhstan, and Israel’s BGU are proposing large-scale halophyte plantations for the phytoremediation of exposed Aral Sea beds subject to high salt concentrations and shifting soils.  Their focus is on rehabilitating degraded ecosystems and converting unstable wastelands into productive pastures. Researchers have compiled lists of native species for the entire region, with an emphasis on the most degraded northeastern parts.  They have identified a number of halophytes that may be cultivated for synthesis of active metabolites that are now being used in the food supplement and pharmaceutical industries, most prominent of which are the secondary phenolic compounds.  Some of the most promising species being studied are the common ice plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum), saltbush (Atriplex halimus), and succulents best suited to the harsh xerothermic environmental factors, such as drought and salinization, and the widespread heavy metal pollution.  In order to confirm the suitability of species selected under laboratory conditions for land reclamation in degraded Aral Sea ecosystems, their performance under field conditions and practical agro-technical parameters are to be quantified in demonstration plots.

Arcadis Euroconsult has recently completed two mangrove reforestation projects: one in Vietnam and other in China.  The project in Vietnam, financed by the Government of the Netherlands and implemented in the period 1996-1999, targeted 6,600 hectares of coastal mangrove forest in the southern Mekong delta in order to reverse degradation and improve coastal protection.  Natural habitats that provide shelter and breeding places were recreated for economically important aquatic species as well as preserving wildlife heritage.  In addition, a zoning plan was developed for the participatory management and sustainable exploitation of the mangrove forest.  In China, the Guangdong Forestry Bureau has implemented an integrated mangrove management and coastal protection program for 12,000 hectares on the Leizhou Peninsula.  Financed by the Chinese Government and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the project was initiated to protect coastal regions against typhoons while simultaneously creating a source of income for the local population.  An integrated development plan was put into place for the sustainable harvesting of mangroves and the development of coastal fisheries and shrimp farming.


The Australian Center for Plant Function Genomics is a joint venture which combines genetic, physiological, and developmental information with functional genomics to identify and characterize the genes controlling adaptation to abiotic stresses in wheat, barley and model species.  The targeted stresses include salinity, drought, high and low temperatures, waterlogging, and mineral deficiencies or toxicities.  With the goal of improving agricultural sustainability, research at the Center will use functional genomics and gene technologies to investigate the control of genes in normal growth conditions and in response to abiotic stresses, specifically to (1) identify the genetic mechanisms that control tolerance to specific stresses, (2) investigate the regulatory networks that control plant growth under abiotic stresses, and (3) identify ways to manipulate these networks.  Genomics has the potential to deliver substantial economic benefits for rural, food, and related manufacturing industries.  This technology also has the potential to directly benefit the cereal growing community and resource-depleted environments; whereby commercial crops would have increased yields, reduced fertilizer requirements, and improved water use efficiency and tolerance to salinity.  Over A$55 million has been invested in the Center by the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the South Australian Government, the Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne, and Queensland, and the Department of Primary Industries at Latrobe University.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and its Center for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) has used a variety of wheat from ancient
Persia to successfully breed the world's first salt-tolerant durum variety, in a collaborative project between CSIRO and NSW Agriculture with support from the GRDC.  This new (non-transgenic) variety will give farmers in salt-affected areas the opportunity to grow durum wheat and take advantage of its commercial potential within a few years.  The CLIMA researchers have found a molecular marker for at least one of the key sodium-exclusion genes in the ancient wheat, and were able to breed these salt-tolerant traits into modern breeding lines and current Australian varieties; test results indicate that the new hybrid has salt-tolerance thresholds equal to that of bread wheat.  The CSIRO/CLIMA has already released this new variety, known as EGA Bellaroi, to commercial growers, with its outstanding pasta-making quality, high yield, and all-round disease-resistance.  In areas affected by dryland salinity, it will now be possible to use this variety in combination with water-hungry crops like lucerne (medicago sativa) and deep-rooting trees, which can help lower rising water tables.  CSIRO emphasizes that growing this new variety without such complimentary strategies will do nothing to alleviate the loss in agricultural productivity and soil degradation that salinity brings.

The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity is a national research organization that was established in 1991.  Through an improved understanding of the way natural and agricultural ecosystems work, the CRC will provide new plant-based land use systems that lessen the economic, environmental, and social impacts of dryland salinity and thereby help to sustain rural communities.  Some of its objectives are to (1) select woody and herbaceous plants with the characteristics needed to develop new agricultural industries and enhance existing industries; (2) develop, test and demonstrate land use systems that reduce ground water levels in recharge areas, and tolerate waterlogging and salinity in discharge areas; and (3) develop practical tools that will assist farmers and land managers to match land and soil capability to improved plant systems.  The CRC also encourages the participation of farmers by developing processes that actively support the involvement of both individual farmers and farmer groups.

NyPa Australia offers a range of commercially productive salt-loving plants for saline environments throughout Australia with the aim of helping farmers become more profitable.  NyPa Wild Wheat (Distichlis palmeri) has been developed from a halophytic grass that the Native American Cocopah Indians once harvested as a major food source – in its creation, a breeding program was conducted to increase grain yields from approximately 5 kg/ha to 2 tons/ha.  With a deep root system that reaches down at least 1.5 meters, it is ideally suited to saline discharge zones and saltwater irrigation, and able to produce a nutritious and gluten-free grain.  NyPa Forage (Distichlis spicata var. yensen-4a) is a perennial halophyte forage grass that has been selected for its larger leaf size, softer growth, palatability, and tolerance to high salt concentrations.  NyPa Forage is a male clonal plant, and spreads by vegetative means, which significantly reduces the chances of becoming a weed by limiting its method of spread.  Distichlis cultivars perform well under waterlogged conditions due to specialized tissue running the length of the root system, which allows oxygen from the leaves to be transported down to the roots, the same mechanism which allows paddy rice to grow.  NyPa Turf (Distichlis spicata var. yensen-4a), with its fine leaves, deep root system, and low growth habit, provides turf that is suitable for sporting facilities and landscaping, freeing up valuable freshwater for other uses.  Salt Solutions, a joint venture between NyPa Australia and Elders launched in September 2003, will help provide Australian farmers with seed and technology for this new generation of salt-loving plants.

The Permaculture Research Institute (PRI), based in Australia, is a non-profit organization involved in global networking and practical training of environmental activists.  It offers solutions (innovative farm designs) to local and global ecological problems, and supports educational projects around the world.  With aid from the Japanese and Jordanian governments, the PRI recently initiated and designed demonstration farms in the Dead Sea Valley of Jordan to counter the overemphasis on chemical- and irrigation-based strategies that have led to inefficient water usage, salinization, and desertification.  Utilizing passive water harvesting systems (contoured swales), guild plantings (symbiotic intercropping), and micro-irrigation under thick layers of organic mulch, farmers were able to establish a diverse mix of crops (fruits and vegetables) with soil and water salt concentrations above 5,000 ppm, and a pH greater than 9.5.  For every fruit tree (i.e. date palm, guava, fig, mulberry, and pomegranate), three fast-growing nitrogen-fixing trees were planted to improve the organic structure of the soil.  Within months, both salinity and pH decreased as the amount of humus in the heavily mulched beds increased.

The research team of Grain Biotech Australia (GBA) at Murdoch University's State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC) is specializing in both conventional breeding and cutting-edge gene biotechnology approaches to improving wheat varieties.  GBA, a Western Australian company, has developed a transgenic salt-tolerant wheat cultivar which can grow in saline conditions up to 15,000 ppm (TDS).  This new wheat variety contains a gene from the transgenic Brassica napus, and could be ready for limited field trials in 2004, with full regulatory approvals at least five years away.  This new wheat variety will offer Western Australian farmers, operating on salt-affected lands, a profitable and environmentally viable option.  GBA, established in 1998, has already made inroads into developing wheat with disease-resistance, improved nutritional value, and is now investigating the possibility of using wheat as a source of pharmaceutical components.  In addition, GBA will launch two new non-transgenic wheat varieties suitable for Western Australian growers and one for growers in the eastern states in 2004.

The Australian Salinity Action Network (ASAN) is an independent community-based organization which seeks to coordinate and share information between all stakeholders involved in addressing the impact of salinity.  ASAN 'connects the dots' between the different stakeholders impacted by salinity; its website is a central information point for members to find out who is doing what in salinity.  The Network provides its members with networking and information sharing opportunities, advisory services and problem solving, and the promotion of technologies and testing of salinity initiatives.  ASAN is also an advocacy group for emerging industries, providing community education and awareness raising campaigns.

Saltgrow Pty Limited, following on from the XylonovA R&D Program and through its own research, has developed fast growing, salt, drought and waterlogging tolerant hybrids of Eucalyptus camaldulensis with E. grandis and E. globulus for use as a commercial tool in dealing with salinity at the landscape scale.  By creating novel eucalypt hybrids, the program has successfully combined the salt- and stress-tolerance of E. camaldulensis with the growth potential and wood property traits of E. grandis and E. globulus.  The XylonovA R&D Program brought together and built upon pioneering research carried out by Victoria’s Forest Science Centre, State Forests of NSW, Biological Sciences Murdoch University, University of Melbourne, University of Western Sydney, and the University of Queensland.  A further outcome of the XylonovA R&D Program was the isolation and sequencing of over 5000 unique expressed sequence transcripts (EST’s) from eucalypts, and the identification and patenting of a potassium channel gene involved in salt-tolerance.  Saltgrow hybrids are suitable for the (1) direct rehabilitation of saline scalds, as well as control of recharge in medium to low rainfall environments typical of saline areas; (2) prevention of salinity in seasonally waterlogged sites prone to future salinization; (3) control of water tables in irrigated cropping areas; and (4) for use in effluent irrigation.  Trials of these hybrids around Australia have successfully demonstrated broad environmental adaptation, consistently showing more vigorous growth than their parental species.  Saltgrow is also undertaking ongoing research and development to improve its products, continue the development of salt tolerant eucalypts and associated silvicultural and management systems, provide the basis for optimising performance of hybrids, and ensure the sustainable deployment of its hybrids.  A key objective of this ongoing R&D program has been to directly involve clients in the trialing, selection, and proving of salt- and stress-tolerant germplasm.  Saltgrow currently has over 400 ha of hybrids established in trials and commercial plantings around Australia, with plans for the further establishment of 1000ha in environmental projects in 2004.

Australia's National Dryland Salinity Program (NDSP) is a collaborative research and development effort that is investigating the causes of, and solutions to, the national problem of dryland salinity.  The first five-year phase of the program was completed in 1998 improving our understanding of the causes of dryland salinity and on establishing a collaborative national focus on the research and development.  A larger, second five-year phase continues to identify and research the knowledge gaps in our understanding of the causes and impacts of dryland salinity.  The Program, which is managed by Land & Water Australia, is also investigating socio-economic arrangements that encourage or impede appropriate management of salinity, new production options using saline resources, and the management of saline landscapes.

Both Hydrosmart and Care-Free Conditioners are actively developing water treatment technologies that may reduce salinity levels in soils and irrigation water.  Hydrosmart uses resonance frequencies to neutralize the bonding ability (confusing electron polarity) of the minerals and chemicals present in water flows, preventing scale formation and the buildup of large crystals.  Without their bonding mechanism, large mineral crystals become unstable and reduce to tiny sub 4 micron particles which enable the flow to pass through drippers/sprays and assume the properties of ‘soft’ water.  The benefits reported include mold/algae removal and enhanced plant growth in high salinity bore water without any of the environmental damage associated with other technologies.  The Care-Free Conditioner is an inline catalytic water treatment system that is based on the (1) turbulence of the water through a specially designed catalytic chamber and (2) introduction of electrons into the catalytic chamber via a small electrical current.  The combination of these effects eliminates the cohesion that exists between the salt/mineral particles causing their separation in the water supply.  These smaller ‘conditioned particles’ now have the ability to penetrate the soil more readily, increasing the permeability of the soil structure and may actually lowers salts in the soil.  Both of these technologies have demonstrated a great deal of anecdotal success and their effects are now being more rigorously investigated and tested.

Tailor Made Fish Farms Pty Ltd is an innovative aquaculture operation, located on a sandy 17-hectare rural block close to Newcastle, with a track record demonstrating that fish effluent can be completely absorbed by various salad greens.  Since 1988, the farm has been using the famed Australian Barramundi fin fish for its aquaculture component in recirculating wastewater which is then utilized for the growing of hydroponics lettuce, completely eliminating waste disposal costs.  Any excess that may occur can be sprayed on adjacent pastures for cattle or on field crops as an excellent nutrient-rich fertilizer.  In addition, saltwater waste streams are being used to nourish halophytic plants, such as edible seaweeds or algae that can be grazed by estuarine fish, such as mullet or rabbit fish.  Once the saltwater aquaponics is fully operational, seawater will come from the bay less than half a kilometer away.

University Research

Plant biologists led by Professor Eduardo Blumwald at the University of California, Davis are now at the cutting edge of transgensis research to create and propagate salt-tolerant varieties of domesticated crops.  Saline water upsets plants’ ability to take in water through their root cells, leading to dehydration as water is drawn out of the cells (the effect of osmotic stress).  To counter this effect, the researchers have successfully genetically engineered tomato plants that over-express or produce higher levels of a naturally occurring ‘transport protein’, know as a sodium/proton antiporter AtNHX1, from thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana).  The transport protein uses energy available in the cells to move salt into cell compartments called vacuoles, where it becomes isolated from the rest of the cell and is unable to interfere with the plant’s normal biochemical activity.  These genetically engineered tomato plants may actually remove salt from the soil, and because their salt-storing activity occurs only in the leaves, the quality of the fruit and seed is maintained.  The researchers claim that the tomato plants grow and produce marketable fruit in irrigation water up to 20,000 ppm.  It may be possible to develop commercial cultivars within three years, after rigorous field testing and obtaining new regulatory approvals.  The current research began in 1999, when researchers were able to genetically engineer salt-tolerance in A. thaliana by manipulating the gene that governs the production of this antiporter protein.  The research team has also inserted this ‘tranport protein’ into rapeseed (Brassica napus) creating plants were able to grow, flower, and produce healthy seeds in salt concentrations that would normally inhibit their growth.  Their studies with B. napus indicated that the amount of growth was directly associated with the amount of AtNHX1 protein produced.  These findings suggest that it may be possible to produce a number of salt-tolerant crops that have fewer undesirable traits than expected, and that this could be achieved by altering the expression of a single gene. 

The National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC), located in Bangkok, Thailand, has undertaken a focused research program to identify native plants that are salt- and drought-tolerant, and to determine their defense mechanisms for abiotic stresses.  Over 100 plant species have been classified into several salt- and drought-tolerant categories through the use of physiological and biochemical markers.  Highly salt-tolerant trees and grasses are currently being examined in the field for their phytoremediation potential and have already been shown to drastically reduce soil salinity in four year experiments.  A number of (non-transgenic) salt-tolerant strains of rice have been discovered, among the collection of 7,000 indigenous varieties, that are able to survive in irrigated waters containing 20,000-30,000 ppm.  In 2003, BIOTEC and the Agriculture Department of Thailand signed an agreement to jump start cooperation in biotechnology and develop new rice varieties in the immediate future.

In 1997, molecular biologists at the Polytechnic University of Valencia in
Spain and the Institute of Arable Crops Research in the UK uncovered a novel way of inducing salt-tolerance using protein-producing genes (Hal1) from brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).  Their research found that two different serine-arginine rich Arabidopsis proteins allowed the yeast cells to tolerate elevated levels of sodium and lithium, indicating reduced ion transport.  In contrast to other transgenic techniques that foster salt sequestration in cell vacuoles, this approach focuses on the Hal1 gene which seems to cause ion pumps to transport sodium out through the cell wall while simultaneously prompting other channels to let potassium in.  The benefits induced by this exchange, most notably homeostasis and normal enzymatic activity, tend to reduce the physiological effects of salt-stress on plants.  The research team inserted the Hal1 gene into tomatoes, melons, and barley which have shown increased salt-tolerance in laboratory and greenhouse trials.  In the case of barley, the Hal1 gene works in much the same way as the AtNHX1, by storing sodium in cell vacuoles.

The Meijo University Science and Technology Research Institute, in cooperation with other Japanese universities and private research institutes, has successfully created rice varieties that can withstand saline irrigation.  Through a series of trials and errors, the team successfully injected betaine genes of Colon bacillus into rice and eventually produced a variety that could withstand water with one-third salt density.  The research team is now studying the production of salt-resistant rice in a more comprehensive way as it will be difficult to progress further simply through the study of betaine genes.  Further research will take two directions: one is to inject multiple genes into rice at the same time, and the other is to develop a specific gene with the biochemical capabilities of producing multiple genes related to salt-tolerance.  Researchers says that genetically-engineered salt-tolerant rice will probably be developed soon because "genetic studies have always showed rapid advancements with the help of very small clues and the studies of salt-resistant rice offer just such clues".

The Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI), part of the Agricultural Research Center (ARC) of the Ministry of Agriculture & Land Reclamation (MOALR) is the primary institute which deals with agricultural genetic engineering in Egypt.  The Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP), a USAID-funded program at Michigan State University from 1991-2003, has funded AGERI’s efforts to enhance osmotic-stress tolerance in Egyptian wheat and tomato crops.  This tolerance is to be achieved by over-expressing the key regulatory enzymes of the proline biosynthesis and sulfur assimilation pathways, and then investigate whether elevated levels of proline and active sulfur can confer salt- and drought-tolerance.  Collaboration between Ain Shams University and AGERI began with the use of a micro-projectile bombardment system to transform immature embryos of Egyptian and American bread wheat with two genes for salt- and drought-tolerance (known as mtlD and HVA1).  From this effort, six putative transgenic plants of both cultivars have been obtained and scientists have established a transformation and regeneration system for wheat.  The mtlD gene (from Escherichia coli, which accumulates mannitol), the HVA1 gene (from Hordeum vulgare, which confers delayed leaf wilting), and the fructan gene (from Bacillus subtilis, which plays a role in osmotic adjustment to changing environmental conditions) were all transformed into wheat plants.  Early results indicate that the transformed lines are expressing the genes and proteins and appear to be more salt-tolerant than controls under laboratory conditions.  The current objectives are to (1) transform Egyptian and American wheat cultivars with genes for salt- and drought-tolerance, (2) conduct greenhouse and field trials of regenerated transgenic plants, (3) improve selection, transformation, and regeneration efficiencies for wheat cultivars, (4) incorporate transgenic plants with improved salt- and drought-tolerance into ongoing Egyptian and American breeding programs, and (5) enhance collaborative relationships that will improve modern genetic technology.

Scientists at Indiana University, Bloomington have recently concluded that it is possible to form viable hybrids of stress-tolerant sunflowers from traditional breeding techniques, suggesting that hybridization may be more important than genetic mutations in causing rapid, widespread evolutionary transitions.  They have shown that a small percentage of fertile hybrids can produce enough variation to lead to a new stress-tolerant species.  In the course of their study, they traced three annual sunflower hybrids (Helianthus anomalus, H. deserticola, and H. paradoxus) that grow in the salt- and water-stressed southwest US back to their parent species (H. annuus and H. petiolaris) which are commercially produced in the central and western US.  The research team crossed the parent species and backcrossed the resulting hybrids with the parents twice, resulting in increased leaf succulence and decreased mineral ion uptake that characterizes the stress-tolerance of these evolutionary hybrids.  The breeding program demonstrated that hybridization could account for a wide range of extreme (desirable) traits of the ancient species.

Researchers at the College of Environmental and Agricultural Sciences, University of Georgia have long been involved in breeding programs focused on the development of vegetatively propagated and seeded seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) ecotypes that can tolerate high salinity in turfgrass situations, and more recently for land reclamation and forage.  It has the leaf texture, quality, and traffic tolerance for use on golf course greens, tees, fairways, and roughs; on sports fields including soccer, baseball, and football; in home lawn and business landscape areas; in municipal parks, and; on roadsides, especially low drainage ways.  It can be used to clean up contaminated waters or soils (bioremediation) and transition into wetland sites or other environmentally sensitive areas to minimize the potential for point and non-point source pollution from industrial sites or other problem areas.  Their recent commercial cultivar releases (Sea Isle 1 and Sea Isle 2000) are the only seashore paspalums that have been patented and certified.  A good number of golf courses around the world are successfully using paspalum cultivars; Sea Isle 1 is currently being used on professional baseball fields in Texas where it tolerates wear and compaction as well as variable quality irrigation water, ranging from potable to effluent to seawater.

Studies, conducted by a team at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences in Israel, reveal that saline groundwater in the Negev can adequately nourish grapevines and produce attractive commercial yields.  Furthermore, the wine produced from these grapes is of equal quality to freshwater irrigated vines and in some cases, of superior quality.  The Negev has many underground aquifers but their high salinity prevents wide agricultural applications.  Research is aimed at adopting crops and practices that can produce commercial yields under saline conditions.  Two grapevine rootstocks showed the best resistance to saline irrigation water and an experimental plot of Cabernet Sauvignon grafted on these two rootstocks was drip irrigated, employing a site-specific salt-leaching and fertilization program.  Studies reveal that while moderate salinity improved wine quality, a further rise in the salinity of irrigation water lowered the general quality of the grapes as well as wine flavor and aroma.  Chemical analysis of aroma compounds showed the effects of saline water irrigation on the content of 16 different compounds in the wines, and an enhancement of their aromatic qualities was found.

Since 1996, plant biologists at Cornell University, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, have been developing a new strategy to genetically engineer rice and other crops to make them more tolerant of drought, salt, and temperature stresses, at the same time improving their yields.  The research team emphasizes that the technique, which involves adding genes to synthesize a naturally occurring sugar called trehalose, should satisfy critics of genetically modified foods since the chemical composition of the edible parts of plants, such as rice grains, remains unchanged.  At the cellular level, trehalose helps maintain individual cell structure and function during severe environmental stresses that would kill most plants, and appears to help plant cells regain metabolic function and efficiency when stress is gone.  Using two different genes from Escherichia coli that are fused together, the researchers introduced these fused genes for trehalose synthesis into Indica rice varieties.  So far the transgenic rice plants with the trehalose-enhancement gene sequences have been tested through five generations and the desirable, stress-tolerant characteristics have held true.  In fact, the transgenic rice plants are more robust than the control under a variety and combination of environmental stresses.  Several years of research and development, safety testing, and certification are still needed before large-scale production and the distribution of transgenic rice seeds to farmers can begin.  The researchers note that this approach may also work in Japonica rice varieties as well as in a range of other crops, including corn, wheat, millet, soybeans, and sugar cane.

Studies at the Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph in Canada reveal that the peppercorn-sized seeds of saltwort (Batis maritime) are packed with nutritious proteins, edible oils, and starches.  Saltwort is a perennial halophyte that colonizes salt marshes throughout the Americas where it can grow up to 2 meters.  Prolific and easy to cultivate and harvest, saltwort has the potential to be a highly productive crop for both animal and human feed as its protein accounts for about 17 per cent of the saltwort seeds' weight.  The analysis shows that the seed is also rich in the amino acids lysine and methionine, antioxidants such as tocopherols, and an edible unsaturated oil similar to safflower.  The seeds, which taste nutty, can be eaten raw or toasted.  Their high starch content could be used for purposes other than food, including cosmetics, paper coatings, printing inks, and biodegradable plastics.  Besides providing potentially valuable harvests, the research team now plans to test whether saltwort removes salt from the soil, possibly rehabilitating degraded lands.

The Plant Stress Unit, University of Sussex has been working on salinity issues since the 1970s.  After establishing the basis of salt-tolerance in the halophytes, research has shifted to improving salt-tolerance in a number of sensitive crop species, such as rice.  Taking into account the complexity of genetic structures that confer salt-tolerance, suitable parents for these traits have been discovered through various physiological techniques.  The quantitative inheritance of these traits has been established and dedicated populations of recombinant inbred lines developed.  In collaboration with the IRRI, and using conventional breeding techniques, varieties with improved salt-tolerance have, and continue to be, released in
Asia.  As well as practical breeding, the Unit carries out fundamental research to find the approximate chromosomal location of quantitative trait loci (QTL) governing ion transport and selectivity, with the same methods being applied to other physiological and desirable agronomic traits.  Future research aims to establish the nature of these QTLs, most  concerned with the 'perception' of salt-stress and the regulation of the numerous structural genes involved in the plant’s coordinated response.  The Plant Stress Unit is focused on (1) species other than rice (including tomato, chickpea, oilseeds, mustard, thale cress, and other 'model' species), (2) the interaction between salinity and other co-existent stresses (i.e. ozone pollution which causes oxidative stress), (3) improving yields and fruit quality of tomatoes under saline irrigation (particularly in Egypt and Syria), (4) the development of complex hydrological models to generate simple guidelines for farmers who have no choice but to irrigate with saline water (SALTMED), (5) salt-affected soils and breeding salt-tolerant crops (India), (6) the development of new rice varieties by “shuttle breeding” involving pyramiding of genes specific to physiological traits, (7) the role of intracellular calcium in seedling establishment of Indian mustard (Brassica juncea) on sodic and saline soils, (8) development and use of intracellular sodium- and chloride-sensitive microelectrodes to investigate salt-tolerance in barley, and (9) identification of donors of physiological traits for a breeding program to enhance the salt-tolerance of rice in China.

The Phytoremediation Research Lab, University of California, Berkeley is particularly interested in improving the efficiency with which plants remove and detoxify toxic metals and metalloids like arsenic, chromium, lead, selenium, mercury, cadmium etc., from contaminated soil, sediments, and water.  For example, many plant species detoxify chromium (VI), which is a very toxic form of the element, to chromium (III) which is essentially non-toxic.  Some plants can also convert toxic forms of selenium, such as selenate and selenite, which are present in wastewaters and contaminated soils and sediments, to volatile forms like dimethylselenide, a non-toxic gas.  Results from a two-year study by researchers show that man-made wetlands in the San Joaquin Valley were able to remove an average of 69% of the selenium in agricultural drainage water.  More significantly, certain halophyte plant populations have shown remarkable promise at converting selenium into dimethylselenide.  The entire wetland ecosystem acts as a bio-geochemical filter where “everything is working in concert to take the selenium out of the drainage water -- the extensive root system of the plants slows down the water flow so the selenium gets trapped in the sediment. These plants also provide a source of fixed carbon to fuel microbes, which metabolize the selenium into non-toxic gas”.  Salicornia bigelovii was found to be an excellent plant for reducing selenate to volatile, non-toxic forms and showed a volatilization rate 10 to 15 times faster than other plants.  Even though they are grown on similar soils, Salicornia and another halophyte (Distichlis spicata) tend to attract microbes in their rhizosphere.  The goal of future studies is to determine if specific chemical compounds exuded by the roots of halophytic species provide conditions that enhance the growth of the soil bacteria Shewanella putrefaciens and if this bacteria can volatilize selenium at a faster rate in the presence of these root exudates.

Researchers in Department of Botany, Miami University, Ohio and the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, Ohio University have tested the feasibility of using different salt-accumulating halophyte species to remediate brine-contaminated soils at a site in south-eastern Ohio, and whether planting seasons affect the germination, yield, and sodium uptake of selected species.  Atriplex prostrata, Hordeum jubatum, Salicornia europaea, Spergularia marina, and Suaeda calceoliformis were sown in October 1992 and March 1993.  All species accumulated higher amounts of sodium and chloride than other ions; autumn-sown A. prostrata and S. calceoliformis accumulated significantly more sodium than when spring-sown.  Ash content (a measure of accumulated inorganic matter) ranged from 15% to 35% in the various plant tissues.  H. jubatum had significantly more sodium in its roots than in its shoots, making it less suitable for site remediation than A. prostrata or S. calceoliformis.  With the exception of S. europaea, all species reduced soil salinity significantly compared with paired control plots, ranging from 4% in H. jubatum to 17% in A. prostrata.  Leaching following precipitation resulted in a 44% reduction in sodium from control plots over a 4-year period, however over the same period, there was a 59% reduction in sodium from plots vegetated with halophytes.  The results indicate that the establishment of halophytes on salt-affected sites can sufficiently remediate the soil to the point where it can be returned to agricultural productivity or where native plants can become reestablished.  The phytoremediation process can be facilitated by tailoring plant selection to site conditions and seasonal planting, using inputs of fertilizer and water to enhance the growth of the halophytes, and by harvesting the plants on a regular basis.

At the Institute of Agronomy and Plant Breeding, University of Agricultural Sciences, Vienna, researchers are currently studying phytochemical changes in halophytes under conditions of drought and salinity.  This new concept of "saltland agronomy" searches for useful halophytic crops and sustainable management practices to revegetate abandoned, salt-affected soils.  Studies focus on the search for new crops and the potential of halophytes for specialty phytochemicals used in pharmaceuticals, herbs, spices, and other industrial products.  The medicinal halophyte Grindelia robusta serves as the model plant for an experimental evaluation of resin production under different water and salinity treatments.  The principal objective of this proposed study is to provide an initial quantification and qualification of secondary metabolite production in halophytes.

The Halophyte Research Lab, Nanjing University in China is currently studying the ecological genetics and breeding of seashore mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica), a perennial, halophytic species which is native to the brackish portions of coastal tidal marshes of the southeastern United States.  The natural distribution of this plant ranges from
Louisiana to Florida and northward along the Atlantic Coast to Delaware.  Seashore mallow has been suggested as a grain crop for seawater-based agricultural systems as it produces a relatively high yield of seeds with high protein and fat content (25-30% protein, 20-30% oil composed largely of unsaturated fatty acids, high potassium and low sodium) which can be pressed for edible oil.  The Lab introduced K. virginica to China as an important salt-resistant oilseed species from the Halophyte Biotechnology Center at the University of Delaware in 1993.  Seashore mallow produces beautiful flowers with a relatively long florescence and may be useful in rehabilitating degraded marshlands in China.  Ten years of experimental research in both laboratory gardens and the field indicate that K. virginica adapts well to the extremely saline soil in Jiangsu Province, where average seed yield from one-year seedlings was 638 kg/ha.  Further selective breeding and crosses among selected lines significantly improved growth, quality, and yield qualities.

Molecular biologists in the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Oklahoma State University have developed a new strategy to genetically engineer wheat to make it more resistant to drought and salt while improving yields.  Stress-tolerant wheat has been under development since 1996 with support from the Oklahoma Wheat Research Foundation and National Science Foundation (NSF).  The scientists emphasize that the technique, which involves adding a gene to synthesize a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol called mannitol, should satisfy critics of genetically modified foods because the gene occurs naturally in many food plants and is routinely used as an additive in many processed foods.  They have demonstrated that wheat engineered to accumulate this sugar in leaf tissues has significantly increased productivity under stresses from water deficiencies or salinity.  The biologists claim to have improved stress-tolerance by introducing into wheat a chimeric, a hybrid gene derived from corn and two common bacteria.  They hope to test these materials under field conditions beginning in 2004; if these transgenic varieties perform well in the field, it may take at least a decade to make them available to farmers.

Researchers at Purdue University’s Center for Plant Environmental Stress Physiology are identifying and characterizing plant genes responsible for salt-tolerance and resistance to insects and nematodes in the hope of improving these abilities through biotechnology.  By using techniques of biotechnology, researchers found that they could substantially increase a plant's tolerance to sodium cloride by causing a plant to express calcineurin, a molecule in the plant's stress signal pathway. This is the first time researchers have shown that they could affect salt-tolerance by changing the stress signal pathway.  Eventually, the work may also reduce the use of pesticides by making it possible to develop plants that resist insects and nematodes.  After screening more than 65,000 plant lines, researchers found a double-mutant plant that took up less salt and grew as quickly as normal plants.  They then isolated the gene responsible for this action and discovered that in the double-mutant plant the gene that produces AtHKT1 had been disabled; further research found that at high salt concentrations plant growth still declined, indicating that salt uptake is a complex system involving multiple genes.  In addition, they discovered another entry system for sodium which explains why controlling this entry system was not able to make plants completely salt-tolerant.  These results indicate that AtHKT1 is a salt-tolerance determinant that controls sodium entry and high affinity potassium uptake while hkt1 double-mutations have revealed the existence of another sodium influx system(s) whose activity is reduced by high [Ca2+] ext.

The Bohnert Laboratories, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, presently funded by the National Science Foundation, is concerned with questions of molecular physiology and the engineering of plant stresstolerance.  The Lab has been focused on salt-stress, to understand this stress, discern its osmotic and ionic stress components and to understand how plants cope with this stress.  The common ice plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) has provided many clues about the mechanisms employed by stress-tolerant plants to survive under extreme conditions, and is one of the few plant species that have a model character with respect to stress-tolerance.  M. crystallinum is highly salt-tolerant as an adult plant, but less so as a young, pre-flowering plant.  Under significant stress, the growth of seedlings and young plants stops, yet do not degenerate; rather, they wait for better times in order to grow again. A unique feature of the common ice plant are epidermal bladder cells, developmentally-formed cells which accumulate sodium and then protrude from the epidermis causing light dispersion (resulting in the leaves being covered with salt crystals).  Researchers have concluded that M. crystallinum must be one of the plant species whose genome should be sequenced.  Extrapolated to the entire genome, the numbers seem to indicate that this halophyte includes several thousand genes that are not present in the Arabidopsis genome.  Thus, a genome sequence for M. crystallinum would be of immense value for understanding the CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism) pathway, the developmental peculiarities of the plant, and a number of morphological and molecular peculiarities that characterize many stress-tolerant species.  From a standpoint of gene mining, it seems that the plant has evolved not only stress-adapted versions of many proteins, but also a number of novel paralogs of common genes for pathways that lead to stress-tolerance.

The Shumaker Lab, University of Arizona is currently using Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress, a salt-sensitive plant) to combine genetic and biochemical approaches in order to identify these tolerance elements and adaptive mechanisms.  Using Thellungiella halophila (salt cress, a salt-tolerant plant), the Lab is combining reverse genetic and biochemical approaches to determine if these determinants and mechanisms identified in Arabidopsis are part of the adaptations used by halophytes.  Lab studies are focused on understanding the role and regulation of transport proteins in the plant’s response to salt stress.  Research with halophytic species has provided glimpses of these adaptive components, but has been limited by the lack of molecular genetics in any of the species studied.  With the advent of molecular genetics in Arabidopsis, functional studies have identified genetic elements and pathways that alter stress sensitivity in this glycophyte.  From these studies, it can now be determined if these components (salt and osmotic tolerance determinants) and mechanisms (the associated regulatory pathways) are part of the adaptations used by Thellungiella, a genetically tractable relative of Arabidopsis.  These studies attempt to determine the extent to which these elements (identified in Arabidopsis) play a role in the life of a halophyte; it may then be possible to generate transgenic models for comparative studies of salinity stress responses.  In addition, researchers are determining the capacity of gene products and promoters from halophytic salt- tolerance genes to mediate functional sufficiency for salt adaptation in a glycophyte. 

According to the Zhu Lab, University of Arizona, a recently discovered halophytic plant species Thellungiella halophila, now promises to help in the detection of new tolerance determinants and operating pathways in a model system that is not limited to Arabidopsis thaliana traits or ecotype variations.  Although A. thaliana is not particularly salt-tolerant, indirect evidence suggests that it might contain most, if not all, of the salt-tolerance genes one might find in halophytes.  It is hypothesized that halophytes generally use similar salt-tolerance effectors and regulatory pathways that have been found in glycophytes, but that subtle differences in regulation account for large variations in tolerance or sensitivity.  To test this theory directly, the salt-tolerance mechanisms operating in halophytes must be discovered.  The discovery of T. halophila on the eastern coast of China has brightened the prospect of detecting determinants contributing to salt and other abiotic stresses, and apart from being salt-tolerant, it is a close relative of A. thaliana.  As such it shares similar phenotypes such as short stature, self-pollination, short life cycle, small genome, and ease of mutation.  A group of labs and research teams are now working on a project called “saltcress-to-rice” with the hope of transforming rice (Oryza sativa) into a crop that can tolerate various abiotic stresses.


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