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Wheat crops in a scorching desert? Orange groves on saline soil? A team of researchers in Israel believe they have found the key to unlocking the potential of land previously deemed unsuitable for agriculture. The result, they say, may provide the means for solving world hunger. "Back in 1998, we discovered 77 different types of filamentous fungi in the Dead Sea, some were rare and sporadic, and others were much more common and even reached the bottom of the sea 300 meters down," Professor Eviatar Nevo, who initiated the research, told ISRAEL21c. "We became interested in the fungi's genetic resources - what made them thrive in the salty Dead Sea." Israelis are constantly working on ways to outsmart desertification and make arid land suitable for agriculture. Before the country’s high-tech boon, agriculture was the country’s main export, despite the fact that 60 percent of the country is desert.

In the current study a common fungus was isolated from the Dead Sea, which has a saline content 10 times higher than in the ocean. One of Nevo's doctoral students, Yan Jin, from China, isolated and sequenced the gene that is responsible for the fungus' ability to defend itself from the salinity of the Dead Sea.

The gene when transplanted to yeast, made it not only resistant to high salt content but to high temperatures as well. The next step will be to see how it works in usable crops such as wheat.

Of the earth's 57 million square miles of land, approximately 12 million square miles can be used for growing crops. Nevo's research may make it possible to grow plants, including crops, in saline earth. This would be a revolution for saline agriculture throughout the world.

According to Israel21c, modern methods of irrigation and fertilization of crops has caused much of the arable lands around the world to become saline. This is especially true in drylands because the high rate of evaporation leaves salt behind. More and more farmers are forced to plant crops on marginal lands and to use soil that was once arable but now has a high saline content. :: Israel21c

::Related:: Want a European vacation that teaches you how to make the desert bloom? Try Sunseed in Spain.