National Geographic Society
National GeographicNat Geo Wild


Ken Street is a 44-year-old Australian scientist, based in Syria for the past 10 years. Ken works at the International Centre For Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). Fearless and charismatic he devotes his time to scouring ancient villages and valleys in Central Asia and the Caucasus looking for rare and wild crop seeds. He is accompanied on the journey to Tajikistan by a team of gene hunters from Australia, USA, Armenia and Russia. Ken’s work is largely funded by ACIAR and GRDC.


In 2008, 27-year-old student Caitlin Byrt completed her PhD
studying salinity tolerance in pasta wheat. Caitlin's research was part
of a joint project between CSIRO Plant Industry, the University of
Adelaide and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. She
was based in the Crop Adaptation building at CSIRO in Canberra.
In her project Caitlin discovered that genes from an old farmer variety
of wheat were important in salinity tolerance. The variety of wheat that
had these novel genes was from Central Asia, and the genes are now being
used in breeding programs to improve the salinity tolerance of modern
wheat varieties. The genes help to prevent salt from accumulating in the
leaves where the build up of salt it is toxic and slows plant growth.