A 360° immersion into the EXPLOWHEAT Project

Ladies and gentlemen, 

We are pleased to introduce you to a 360° immersion into the EXPLOWHEAT Project, thanks to a podcast episode hosted by Radio Cusano Campus, an Italy-based online radio channel created by the University Niccolò Cusano located in Rome. 

Held on May 14, 2022, the episode sheds light on EXPLOWHEAT, a project coordinated by the University of Tuscia (Viterbo, Italy) in partnership with the Ferhat Abbas University of Sétif (Algeria), the Centre of Biotechnology of Sfax (Tunisia) and the University of Turin, with the aim to bypass the thermal stress and drought that climate change is posing on the world of agriculture, especially on the Mediterranean areas.

The increase in temperature and decrease in rainfalls have affected agriculture, causing crops to grow in an increasingly stressful environment. It is enough to think about the drought that hit Morocco and Algeria in 2015, causing a reduction in agricultural production by 50%. Water scarcity affects the mechanisms that allow plants to acquire nutrients from the soil, resulting in substantial nutritional deficiencies. The lack of nutrients has a direct impact on the amount of minerals contained in the plant seeds, reducing their nutritional value and therefore representing one of the main problems in developing countries because of iron and zinc deficiencies in food. 

Mrs. Stefania Astolfi, Professor in Department of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences (DAFNE) of Università degli Studi della Tuscia (Viterbo, Italy) explains the meaning of this project acronym: Exploring durum wheat genotypes to minimize drought stress impact on grain yield nutritional quality. The goal is indeed to explore the genotypes of durum wheat capable of reducing the effect of drought on crops’ productivity and nutritional quality. The main action will focus on identifying drought-tolerant wheat varieties in order to then select wheat varieties that show high levels of performance in nutrients absorption from the soil.  

The project started in December 2020 and has three years of duration. 

Of course, if the project results will be effective, there will be cascading consequences for the agriculture sector. The underlying hope is that these varieties will be able to grow in unfavourable conditions, thus producing higher yields with less inputs in terms of water and nutrients. 

A question might arise spontaneously: Do the genetically modified organism (OGM) have anything to do with it?

The answer is negative. The only products employed in this project are hard wheat from Italy, Tunisia, and Algeria, grown in all these countries. Both ancient varieties (no longer used) and local types (used in small areas and small doses) were considered, together with wheat varieties obtained with the “tilling” technique. However, these should not be regarded as OGMs since this technique exploits the action of mutagenic agents that induce random mutations in the durum wheat genome, causing the emergence of compelling characters (Vitamin A for grain, for example).

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