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Genetic changes threaten food production

Feb. 23, 2012 at 5:27 PM   |   Comments

HAIFA, Israel, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Genetic changes in wild progenitors of wheats and barleys, staple foods for humans and animals, may threaten future food production, an Israeli study indicates.

Genetic changes in the last three decades imply a risk for crop improvement and food production, the University of Haifa said in a release Wednesday.

"The earliness in flowering time and genetic changes that are taking place in these important progenitor wild cereals, most likely due to global warming, can negatively affect the wild progenitors." Eviatar Nevo of Haifa's Institute of Evolution said.

"These changes could thereby indirectly deteriorate food production," Nevo said.

The progenitors, wild emmer wheat and wild barley, provide the genetic basis for wheat and barley cultivars, which earlier studies found are themselves under constant genetic erosion and increasing susceptibility to environmental stresses, researchers said.

"The ongoing global warming in Israel is the only likely factor that could have caused earliness in flowering and genetic turnover across the range of wild cereals in Israel," Nevo said. "This indicates that they are under environmental stress which may erode their future survival.

"These changes threaten the best genetic resource for crop improvement and thereby may damage food production."

"Wild emmer wheat is the world's most important genetic resource for wheat improvement, and it is up to us to preserve it," he said.

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