Chinese scientists have cultivated salt-resistant tomatoes, soybeans, rice and fast-growing poplar using a key gene cloned from a salt-resistant plant.
The genetically-modified, salt-resistant plants are growing well in the lab of Shandong Normal University and will soon be transplanted.
Zhao Yanxiu and Zhang Hui, professors from Shandong Normal University in Shandong Province, in eastern China, said they discovered the salt-resistant gene after sequencing the genes of Suaeda Salsa, a common plant found in saline soil in China during a project launched in 1999.
Scientists hope the technology will make it possible to convert the enormous amount of idle saline soil, equivalent to about one quarter of the earth's landmass, into farmland.
Professor Zhang said the commercialization of the achievement will bring economic benefits, help improve environmental protection and promote sustainable development.
Experts with the Ministry of Agriculture predicted broad application prospects for the technology in China, a country with a growing population of 1.3 billion and dwindling farmland resources.
China has a total of 33 million hectares of saline soil.
An evaluation group organized by the country's Ministry of Science and Technology concluded that the salt-resistant gene cloned from Suaeda Salsa is the first of its kind in the world.
They have applied to the State Intellectual Property Office for patent rights, and the office has published the achievement in its patent rights bulletin.
Professor Zhao said his university is scheduled to host a seminar on the application of salt-resistant botanic genes in developing countries with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States.
Scientists from Britain, France, India, Israel, South Africa and the United States are expected to attend the seminar.
(People's Daily September 16, 2002)