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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Crops for Drought Areas


I will defer to Bobal for further comment on the potential significance to this exciting scientific breakthrough.
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Scientists advance 'drought crop'
By Matt McGrath
BBC News science reporter

Scientists say they have made a key breakthrough in understanding the genes of plants that could lead to crops that can survive in a drought.

Researchers in Finland and the United States say they have discovered a gene that controls the amount of carbon dioxide a plant absorbs.

It also controls the amount of water vapour it releases into the atmosphere.

This information could be important for food production and in regulating climate change.

Water control

Plants play a crucial role in the regulation of the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. They absorb the gas through tiny pores on their leaves called stomata and these pores also release water vapour as the plant grows.

In extremely dry weather, a plant can lose 95% of its water in this way.

Scientists have been trying to find the gene that controls the response of the stomata for decades.

Now teams in Finland and California are reporting in the journal Nature that they have found a crucial genetic pathway that controls the opening and closing of these pores.

The researchers say that this understanding could allow them to modify plants so that they continue to absorb carbon dioxide but reduce the amount of water released into the atmosphere, enabling them to thrive in very dry conditions.

On the way

Professor Jakko Kangasjarvi from the University of Helsinki says this work is the first step on that road

"It opens the avenue, it is still several years away but before this publication, there was no single component which would have so many different effects... there was no target to modify, now we know the target," he said.

While the experiments have been done in a variety of cress, the scientists say that the underlying genetic mechanisms are the same in many food plants, including rice.

It is believed that this new genetic understanding of how to control the amount of water that plants use could be commercialised within the next 20 years.

1 comment:

  1. I'm afraid you've deferred to the wrong guy on that one, deuce. Around here we've always, with one exceptional year, had very adequate rain, and sometimes too much. Well, sometimes at the wrong time, too.

    I do remember reading an article about a program to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert, and even to push it back a bit, too. It involved planting a type of low shrub I think it was that could survive the dry conditions at the edges of the desert. Didn't work though, because the plants while having the ability to root deep down, to get what moisture there was, translocated large amounts of it to the plant's trunk and leaves above ground. This had the unforseen, and very undesirable, consequence that the moisture, now above ground, evaporated at a high rate into the hot air, in the end making the desert dryer, the problem worse, not better. It sucked what moistuure that was deep in the ground up to above ground, where it was blown away.

    The program was discontinued, with a lesson learned.

    A genetically altered plant that took less from below, and released less above, would be an obvious boon here.

    To the east of here, further into central Washington state, but before the area irrigated from the Columbia River, is an area of wheat growing where the land is cropped only every two years. In the summer fallow year, everything is done so as to disturb the soil as little as possible, always thinking to conserve moisture. Nowadays, much of the work to keep the weeds down during summer fallow is done, not with a light cultivating, as in the past, but with 'chem fallow'--the application of selective herbicides to kill the emerging weeds once or twice in the fallow cycle, thus not disturbing the ground at all. Every time you plow, disc, or cultivate the land you are turning up, exposing and y losing moisture. This same type of operation is used in dry areas in Oregon and Montana too, and I think the Dakotas, and other places.

    Before chem fallowing they had made and used a cultivating tool known as a duck's foot, basically a low penetrating V-shaped end on the fingers of a cultivator that would go through the soil like a knife blade, killing the plants, but just kind of lifting the soil a little, then the soil settles as it passes, not turning it over, or ripping it up as the older cultivating tools would do.

    The Steens Mountains in Oregon are a beauty to behold, not well know, and infrequently visited. There are even some small lakes with trout up in those hills.

    At Idaho and WSU attempts have been made to get a wheat or barley that fixes nitrogen in the soil, like legumes do, but as of yet to no avail.

    A moisture saving, CO2 sequestering, nitrogen fixing wheat, that's what the doctor ordered. A big order:)

    Just got back from Couer d Alene, Id., where there is still massive amounts of snow on the ground, and some ice still on the lake.

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