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Pilot project for fight against and to prevent desertification

Objectives: The goal of the proposed research is to identify specific drought- and salt-resistant plant genotypes for the purpose of replacing degraded vegetation in desertification-affected areas. At the beginning the program will concentrate on several of the local plants, starting with three model species, which represent major components of the annual vegetation in the arid regions – a grass (e.g. a species of Aegilops a member of the Poaceae family), a forb (e.g. Cakile or Reboudia as members of the Brassicaceae family), and a legume (e.g. a species of Medicago a member of the Fabaceae family). In order to facilitate the establishment of the plants in degraded habitats its associated symbiotic Rhizobia and vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal (VAM) fungi will also be isolated from their native habitats. The selected genotypes will be characterized using modern biochemical and genomic methods. Once these genotypes will be selected they will be propagated in order to establish a viable seed source for their future use.
Sectorial Topic (Note): Sustainable land use management, including water, soil and vegetation in affected areas
Actor(s)[Nation(Ministry, Agency)/Organization]: Ministry for the Environment and Territory (Italy); Institute of Cereal Crop Improvement, Depratment of Plant Sciences, Tel Aviv University, The Botanic Gardens Israeli Agricultural Research Organization, Volcani Center, Bet-Dagan (Israel)
Contents: Bilateral agreement on environmental protection.
Means of Implementation: Project total costs: 500.000,00 euro
Italian Ministry for the Environment and Territory’s financial contribution : 500.000,00 euro
The research will encompass several different aspects of the topic, which correspond to the expertise of the participating scientists – ecology, physiology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and plant-microbe interactions. Seeds of native plants of the above mentioned species collected in arid and salt-affected habitats will be tested. Existing seed collections in the Lieberman Germplasm Bank, of the Institute for Cereal Cop Improvement and in the National Germplasm Bank, at the Volcani Center will be used. All the experiments will be conducted in sand-culture and will compare the performance of the plants under several stress levels imposed by known salt concentrations and reduced water supply. Every accession will be evaluated by its viability, vegetative growth, and seed set. Leaf material will be used for biochemical and genomic characterization of the resistant genotypes. Genomic information of close relatives of these species that is available in public databases would serve as the basis for complementary molecular analyses. In order to identify symbiotic Rhizobia and VAM fungi capable of function under arid and saline conditions such microorganisms will be isolated from arid habitats in the Negev desert from soils on which native Medicago and Aegilops plants occur naturally, and tested under controlled conditions.
Target year: 2005
Target Area/Place: Israel
Expected Outcome(S): The selected plant genotypes will belong to naturally occurring species. They will be propagated under controlled conditions and their seeds will be available for future use as test plants in locations affected by desertification. Unlike alien species that have been used in the past for such purposes as dune stabilizers, these will be native to the region and will not run the risk of becoming undesirable weeds. This will be a pioneering study in that direction, which will set the path for other studies that will focus on additional plant taxa including perennial species. Moreover, identification of the biochemical and genomic basis for stress resistance could serve as the basis for future improvement of various crops such as small grains, vegetables and fodder plants.
Relevance to the Plan of Implementation of WSSD: The Development Goal, endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg for desertification prevention, also recognized the key role of water in agriculture, energy, health, biodiversity and ecosystems as well as in combating poverty.
Other Information:
(Contact): Valeria Clara Rizzo
Italian Ministry for Environment and Territory
Address: via Cristoforo Colombo, 44
Phone: 0039-06- 5722-8106/09
Fax: 0039-06-5722-8178
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