Navigator – setting a new standard

Date posted: 03 December 2013

A catch up with Associate Professor Jason Eglinton, Barley Program Leader, University of Adelaide.

For this week’s blog we tracked down barley breeder Associate Professor Jason Eglinton, who is responsible for breeding ‘Navigator’ the barley variety which is grown in the botanic gardens. Jason has worked in the barley breeding industry for around 15 years, so knows a thing or two about growing great grains!   

What is your favourite fact about a barley plant?   

Historical remains suggest that barley was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East around 10,000 years ago. From here, farmers and plant breeders have shipped it around the world, developing new varieties. You can find barley growing in the high elevation areas of Tibet through to the desert margins of the Middle East!  It’s a very tough and hardy crop that can survive in harsh conditions while still producing good quality grains, this means it was a crop which could be adapted and grown in Australia.  

Tell us more about Navigator...  

Navigator is the result of nine years of plant breeding research. We selected two parent plants (known as industry lines), each with a set of characteristics which we thought would benefit farmers in the new variety (ie parent one was resistant to plant diseases and was high yielding while parent two was tolerant to high levels of soil boron, it had strong stems and good root structure).  

The two parents were ‘mated’, where the pollen (male part) of one parent was introduced to the stigma (female part) of the other plant, so fertilisation occurs and little baby seeds can grow. We actually produced 261 baby plants. 

The DNA of each plant was screened to determine if it had inherited the right combination of genetic traits. Think about your brothers and sisters, you all have some traits similar and some traits different – with plant breeding we can actually sort through all of the offspring and chose the ones we like best!

This narrowed the offspring down to 134 plants. These were grown out in the field to see how they performed.  Over the next few years, the biggest and best plants were selected and further developed. 

We ended up with one offspring that performed continually well out on the field.  It had good grains, high protein, good root structure and looked to be a great new variety which Australian farmers would love.  We named the plant variety Navigator. 

Tell us about the name...  

All barley varieties from the University of Adelaide are named following a nautical theme. Generally speaking, a Navigator has a responsibility for charting the course or leading to the future. The new barley variety we developed set a new standard for quality so the name Navigator seemed to fit!  

What is Navigator grain used for?

Barley grains are used to make malt, which in turn is used in food and beer production (ie Breakfast cereals, breakfast bars, milo and beer).  

What has been the highlight of your career?  

A highlight is developing new barley varieties for Australian farmers... It starts with a small idea, then after years of research, it turns into a new variety with new and improved traits to benefit farmers and consumers.  It’s really satisfying to produce varieties which produce more grain per seed planted and produce higher quality food.