Elusive native sorghum seed now in safe hands

The Australian Grains Genebank at Horsham is now home to the only specimen of Sorghum grande seed known to be in any seed collection worldwide.

It is hoped the elusive native sorghum seed, which was found during a week-long seed collecting mission in the Northern Territory, will one day provide important traits which plant breeders can tap into to improve cultivated crops grown in Australia.

Led by Agriculture Victoria researcher Dr Sally Norton, the trip through Katherine and Kakadu National Park resulted in 21 new populations of wild sorghum, rice, mungbean and pigeonpea joining the extensive seed collection housed at Horsham.

This is the fourth time Dr Norton has collected seed from the Northern Territory, having previously journeyed to the country’s top end in 1997, 2001 and 2018.

“The purpose of the expedition was to collect wild relatives of Australian crops for conservation in the seed bank, and subsequent use in research and seed breeding programs,” Dr Norton said.

“The additional aspect to this trip, and the one in 2018, was to provide training for traditional owners and indigenous rangers on how to best collect seed from wild plants for long term conservation.

“During the process, we also learned about some traditional uses of some plants including one type of sorghum ‘big spear grass’ used for fishing as a kind of burley.”

Dr Norton said wild relatives were important for conservation as they are second or third cousins to our cultivated crops.

“All the grain crops farmers grow in Australia originated overseas and have been bred to suit Australian conditions,” she said.

“The wild relatives we have collected are truly Australian and over time have developed specific genetic traits that allow them to grow well in our climate with very little inputs compared to farmed crops.

“These cousins of the cultivated crops have a lot of diversity in their genetic material which is of interest to plant breeders.

“We also keep wild relatives to take pressure off Australian plant populations.”

The seed collecting trip was conducted by Agriculture Victoria in partnership with the Millennium Seed Bank, the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the Australia Seed Bank Partnership.

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