PS Seminar Series - Salicornia, a halophyte with untapped potential

Abstract - Given the global rates of freshwater depletion and the lack of replenishment in many regions including Saudi Arabia, the use of seawater as a primary source of irrigation for cropping may be our only viable option. This will require a paradigm shift away from the crops that we have a longstanding culinary and cultural relationship with to the evolution of new crops that are currently wild but edible, thriving in extreme environments. Neo-domestication, the introduction of alleles and traits important for cropping to wild species have begun to be applied to crop wild relatives. Here, we present our research characterizing the extraordinary physiology of the edible halophyte Salicornia, also known as glasswort or sea asparagus, enabling it to thrive in seawater. We map out a strategy for breeding domestication traits into Salicornia starting with expanding our germplasm collection and developing reference genomes of three species of diverse geographical origins: Salicornia bigelovii (US), Salicornia europaea (Israel) and Salicornia persica (Saudi Arabia). Considering that tissue tolerance is largely enabled by vacuolar sequestration of sodium, we further aim to identify the sodium transporters and regulators of transport on the tonoplast membrane. Candidates were identified via an untargeted membrane proteomics approach and we now describe steps to characterize them.

Biography - Dr Vanessa Melino is a senior research scientist in the Centre for Desert Agriculture at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST, Saudi Arabia) in the Salt Lab of Professor Mark Tester where they aim to dissect the genetics of salinity tolerance in quinoa, tomato and Salicornia. Vanessa is a plant physiologist with expertise in plant nutrition. Vanessa graduated with a PhD in 2009 from the University of Adelaide characterizing pathways of ascorbic acid metabolism in wine grapes. She moved to Murdoch University (Western Australia) to investigate causes of incompatibility between introduced clover species and naturalized strains of N2-fixing rhizobia that prevent optimal N2-fixation. She returned to the University of Adelaide in 2012 to work with the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics on a project funded by Dupont Pioneer to characterize the nitrogen use efficiency of transgenic wheat lines. She is also fascinated by the response of root phenes and radial transport pathways to external nitrogen supply summarizing her research findings in a JXB review (DOI: 10.1093/jxb/eraa049). Finally, she studied the contribution of organic nitrogen recycling from nucleotide degradation pathways in an ARC-funded grant summarizing these findings in a recent Current Opinions review (DOI: 10.1016/j.copbio.2021.09.003).