"Importantly, there was no yield penalty with this gene," Dr James says.

"Under standard conditions, the wheat containing the salt-tolerance gene performed the same in the field as durum that did not have the gene. But under salty conditions, it outperformed its durum wheat parent, with increased yields of up to 25 percent.

"This is very important for farmers, because it means they would only need to plant one type of seed in a paddock that may have some salty sections," Dr James says.

"The salt-tolerant wheat will now be used by the Australian Durum Wheat Improvement Program (ADWIP) to assess its impact by incorporating this into recently developed varieties as a breeding line."

Dr Munns says new varieties of salt-tolerant durum wheat could be a commercial reality in the near future.

"Although we have used molecular techniques to characterise and understand the salt-tolerant gene, the gene was introduced into the durum wheat through 'non-GM' breeding processes. This means we have produced a novel durum wheat that is not classified as transgenic, or 'GM', and can therefore be planted without restriction," she says.

The researchers are taking their work a step further and have now crossed the salt-tolerance gene into bread wheat. This is currently being assessed under field conditions.

The research is a collaborative project between CSIRO, NSW Department of Primary Industries, University of Adelaide, the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. It is supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and Australian Research Council (ARC).