Halophyte Agriculture

n parts of the world food supplies are becoming limited as populations increase. Many areas could support food production if plants were available that could tolerate high salinity. As much as 10 % of the earth's land surfaces are salt-affected. The very salt-tolerant plants native to coastal habitats are sources of genetic material for developing halophytic crops. These plants are potential agricultural crops in areas where either the soil or the irrigation water is very salty, i.e. above 5 parts per thousand. At the Halophyte Biotechnology Center (HBC) we have identified about a dozen marsh plants that could be used for forage, grain, vegetable, firewood and horticultural uses. Our primary focus has been on forage grasses so that animal feed can be grown on the saline land leaving good land for growing crops for human consumption.

At the HBC we have developed the tissue culture and regeneration methods for at least 10 of these halophytes. By taking advantage of somaclonal variation which occurs during the tissue culture process we can select plants with characteristics desirable for agriculture. We have also studied salt tolerance mechanisms to gain an understanding of exactly how these plants cope with salt stress. For example, we have studied membrane composition of a halophytic grass at three levels of organization (cell, shoot and whole plant) in response to various salt concentrations and found that sterols and phospholipids decreased with increasing salinities while glycolipids increased and that reduced fluidity in the plasma membrane may decrease NaCl permeability.

Halophyte selections from the HBC are being studied in saline areas around the world. In the photograph below (Fig. 1) Sporobolus virginicus can be seen growing in sample plots in northeastern Thailand. This particular selection of Sporobolus (Dixie) was made by scientists in the HBC Laboratory and planted in northeastern Thailand by Drs. Somsri Arunin and Arunee Yuvaniyama from the Soil Salinity Research Section, Land Development Department, Bangkok. Due to success of their early experiments, expansive areas of Sporobolus variety Dixie have been planted. The farmer in the photograph below (Fig. 2) is currently propagating the grass for planting at new sites in Thailand where it will be used for forage and hay.

Sporobolus - Thailand
Thai farmer in field of Sporobolus (Dixie) in northeastern Thailand.

Sporobolus in trial plots-Thailand
Dr. Arunee Yuvaniyama in the trial plots of Sporobolus (Dixie) in northeastern Thailand.

This page was last updated: May 17, 2010