How we can make crops survive without water | Jill Farrant | Summary and Q&A

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How we can make crops survive without water | Jill Farrant


Resurrection plants hold the secret to producing drought-tolerant crops, which are essential for food security in a growing world population.

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Questions & Answers

Q: Why is producing drought-tolerant crops important for food security?

Producing drought-tolerant crops is important for food security because the world population is projected to reach 9 to 10 billion people by 2050, with a significant population growth happening in Africa. The food and agricultural organizations estimate that a 70 percent increase in current agricultural practice will be necessary to meet the demand, and this percentage does not even consider the potential effects of climate change.

Q: What is the current situation regarding agriculture and climate change?

Climate change is predicted to cause increased aridity, leading to a lack of rainfall in many areas. This will render previously productive agricultural regions, especially in Africa, unable to support crops. This situation is expected to worsen by 2050, putting a large portion of the world, including Africa, at risk. Consequently, innovative solutions, such as drought-tolerant crops, will be needed to address this challenge.

Q: What are resurrection plants, and why are they important?

Resurrection plants are a type of plant that can survive extreme droughts by entering a dormant state but can revive and start growing within 12 to 48 hours of being given water. These plants have the ability to lose up to 95 percent of their cellular water and remain in a dry, seemingly dead state for extended periods. They are vital because they possess desiccation tolerance, which enables them to withstand harsh environmental conditions and potentially serve as models for developing drought-tolerant crops.

Q: How do desiccation-tolerant plants differ from annual crops?

Desiccation-tolerant plants, such as resurrection plants, have evolved unique strategies to cope with and survive extreme drought conditions. These plants can lower their water content significantly, enduring months or even years in a dry state before being revived. In contrast, annual crops, such as wheat, rice, and maize, rely heavily on producing energy-rich seeds during the rainy season to survive during periods of drought. However, their vegetative tissues lack inherent resistance, avoidance, or tolerance characteristics.

Q: What research has been conducted to develop drought-tolerant crops?

Researchers have undertaken a comprehensive understanding of desiccation tolerance in plants, studying everything from a molecular to a whole plant level. This includes analyzing changes in plant anatomy, studying gene expression through the transcriptome, identifying the proteins produced by genes (proteome), examining changes in metabolites (metabolome), and investigating lipid changes (lipidome). With this thorough understanding, scientists are developing strategies, including genetic modification, to enhance drought tolerance in crops by activating specific genes involved in desiccation tolerance.

Q: How are genes being used to develop drought-tolerant crops?

Through research, scientists have discovered a core set of genes involved in desiccation tolerance that are present in both seeds and resurrection plants. These genes, previously activated only in seed tissues, have been identified in the roots and leaves of modern crops as well. By understanding the signals that switch on these genes in resurrection plants, researchers aim to mimic this process in crops through genetic modification or the activation of existing genes. The goal is to develop drought-tolerant crops by replicating the natural evolution of desiccation tolerance.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Resurrection plants, which can survive extreme drought conditions, hold the key to producing drought-tolerant crops that can help meet the growing demand for food, especially in Africa where population growth is expected to be highest.

  • Producing drought-tolerant crops is essential for food security, as current agricultural practices need to be increased by 70 percent by 2050 to meet demand, without even accounting for the potential effects of climate change.

  • Resurrection plants have unique mechanisms that allow them to lose cellular water and remain in a desiccated state for months or years, and then revive when given water. Understanding these mechanisms can be applied to making crops more drought-tolerant.

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