Harnessing Wild Alleles in Wheat: Promoting Drought Tolerance by Leveraging Root-to-Shoot Adaptations

April 15, 2024 @ 12:15 pm to 01:15 pm

Harel Bacher, Cornell University

108 Wartik Laboratory
University Park

Co-sponsored by the Center for Root and Rhizosphere Biology

Wheat (Triticum sp.) is largely grown under drought-prone environmental conditions, which results in significant yield reduction. Wild emmer wheat (Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccoides) is the wild progenitor of wheat and serves as a source of allelic diversity that can promote productivity under various biotic and abiotic stresses including drought. Based on this potential, the overall goal of my research was to elucidate physiological mechanisms from wild introgressions to enhance wheat productivity under water stress and uncover their underlying genetics. Specifically, I leveraged plant physiology, genetics, and plant modeling under field and control conditions to identify wild alleles that contribute to root-to-shoot adaptations under water stress, increasing water use efficiency and productivity. Testing this genetic material with geophysical tools in the field we were able to phenotype root water uptake and found that greater root biomass is associated with deeper roots which uptake residual water from soil depth. Also, we mapped QTL for root axial conductivity and found that limiting axial conductivity is associated with higher grain yield under terminal drought. In the above ground, we integrated whole-plant high-throughput phenotyping and plant modeling, to find that wild alleles contribute to enhanced transpiration efficiency. This improvement occurs by increasing stomatal conductance in the early morning when vapor pressure deficit is low, thereby optimizing carbon acquisition while minimizing water loss from the plant canopy.

About the Speaker:
Dr. Harel Bacher is a Postdoctoral Associate in Plant Breeding and Genetics section at Cornell University, in Dr. Michael Gore's lab. Harel received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under Professors Zvi Peleg (HUJI) and Harkamal Walia (UNL, USA). Using plant physiology, genetics, geophysical, and remote sensing tools, his research emphasized the potential of utilizing wild emmer wheat alleles to enhance drought tolerance, especially by controlling root traits. Recognizing his contributions, Harel received the Early Career Speaker award at the 2019 International Wheat Congress. After his Ph.D. Harel joined the Gore lab as a BARD US-IL Vaaida postdoctoral fellow focused on combining statistical modeling of multi-omics data to reveal the biological underpinnings of maize leaf cuticular conductance. Today, Harel is funded by the Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems (CROPPS), to investigate the daily dynamics of stomatal conductance in maize integrating genomics, plant physiology, and modeling.


Shiran Ben Zeev