Biotechnological applications of halophytes

Autores UPV
Revista Current Opinion in Biotechnology


Salinisation of arable land by the progressive accumulation of toxic ions in the soil is an increasing problem, affecting the most productive agricultural zones in the world, those cultivated under irrigation in arid or semi-arid regions. Our present crops are saltsensitive, and classical breeding has not succeeded in improving their resistance to salinity. Similarly, despite intensive research in the last years, genetic engineering approaches have not yet delivered commercial salt-tolerant ¿biotech¿ (GM) crops. Yet a small percentage (ca. 0.25%) of angiosperm species¿halophytes¿are adapted to saline soils in their natural habitats, andmanyare able to complete their life cycle at salinity levels similar to, or even higher than seawater. Halophytes could be cultivated in salinised land already lost for agriculture, and also in naturally saline, marginal soils, using brackish or sea water for irrigation¿and therefore without competing for resources with standard cultivated species. Several ¿new¿ halophytic crops have been developed or can be developed in the near future, to be used, for example: first, as human food or for animal feed; second, for the production of secondary metabolites with medical, nutraceutical, cosmetic or other industrial applications; third, as new ornamental plants, for gardening and landscape architecture; fourth, for production of biofuels: biomass generation for bioethanol, and biodiesel obtained from oleaginous seeds. Examples of these applications will be presented and discussed.