Deficiencies of zinc are well known in all cereals and cereal-growing countries. From physiological evidence reported elsewhere, it would appear that a critical level for zinc is required in the soil before roots will either grow into it or function effectively; it is likely the requirement is frequently not met in deep sandy, infertile profiles widespread in southern Australia. Because fertilizing subsoils is impractical, this paper presents arguments for breeding cereal varieties with root systems better able to mobilise zinc from soil sources of low availability. Other agronomic arguments are presented in support of breeding for zinc efficiency.
Significant genetic variation for this character is described for wheat, barley and oats. Linkage to other efficiency traits (e.g., manganese) is poor suggesting independent mechanisms and genetic control not linked to gross root system geometry. Zinc efficiency traits for sandy and clayey soils appear to be genetically different. Zinc-efficient genotypes absorb more zinc from deficient soils, produce more dry matter and more grain yield but do not necessarily have the highest zinc concentrations in tissue or grain. Although high grain zinc concentration also appears to be under genetic control, it is not tightly linked to agronomic zinc efficiency traits and may have to be selected for independently. High grain zinc is considered a desirable quality factor which not only contributes to the seedling vigour of the next generation but could increase the nutritional value of the grain in areas where a high dependence on grains for food may result in zinc deficiency in humans.
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Graham, R.D., Ascher, J.S. & Hynes, S.C. Selecting zinc-efficient cereal genotypes for soils of low zinc status. Plant Soil 146, 241–250 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00012018