Micronutrient malnutrition, and particularly deficiency in zinc (Zn) and iron (Fe), afflicts over three billion people worldwide, and nearly half of the world’s cereal-growing area is affected by soil Zn deficiency. Wild emmer wheat [Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccoides (Körn.) Thell.], the progenitor of domesticated durum wheat and bread wheat, offers a valuable source of economically important genetic diversity including grain mineral concentrations. Twenty two wild emmer wheat accessions, representing a wide range of drought resistance capacity, as well as two durum wheat cultivars were examined under two contrasting irrigation regimes (well-watered control and water-limited), for grain yield, total biomass production and grain Zn, Fe and protein concentrations. The wild emmer accessions exhibited high genetic diversity for yield and grain Zn, Fe and protein concentrations under both irrigation regimes, with a considerable potential for improvement of the cultivated wheat. Grain Zn, Fe and protein concentrations were positively correlated with one another. Although irrigation regime significantly affected ranking of genotypes, a few wild emmer accessions were identified for their advantage over durum wheat, having consistently higher grain Zn (e.g., 125 mg kg−1), Fe (85 mg kg−1) and protein (250 g kg−1) concentrations and high yield capacity.
Plants grown from seeds originated from both irrigation regimes were also examined for Zn efficiency (Zn deficiency tolerance) on a Zn-deficient calcareous soil. Zinc efficiency, expressed as the ratio of shoot dry matter production under Zn deficiency to Zn fertilization, showed large genetic variation among the genotypes tested. The source of seeds from maternal plants grown under both irrigation regimes had very little effect on Zn efficiency. Several wild emmer accessions revealed combination of high Zn efficiency and drought stress resistance. The results indicate high genetic potential of wild emmer wheat to improve grain Zn, Fe and protein concentrations, Zn deficiency tolerance and drought resistance in cultivated wheat.
Plant and Soil (2008) 306 (1-2) 57-67 [doi: 10.1007/s11104-007-9417-z]