Most plants cope with adverse conditions like droughts by reducing their biological functions or even shutting down altogether. This is not the case with extremophytes, which have evolved to resist and even thrive in conditions that would be lethal to other plants.
According to scientists, by studying these plants and their responses to harsh environmental conditions, we can strengthen some of our crops against droughts, heat waves and other stresses.
“With climate change, we cannot expect the environment to stay the same,” says Ying Sun, a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the United States. “Our crops will have to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions. If we can understand the mechanisms plants use to tolerate stress, we can help them do it better and faster.
Sun and his colleagues focused on a particularly resistant plant, Schrenkiella parvula , which thrives in very stressful conditions as it can withstand not only extreme salinity in its water source, but also floods, droughts and scorching sun along the shores of Lake Tuz in Turkey, where it grows. In fact, scientists report in a new study that the plant actually grows faster under stressful conditions.
“Most plants produce a stress hormone that acts as a signal to stop growth,” says José Dinneny, associate professor of biology at Stanford University, lead author of the paper. “But in this extreme adjustment, it’s a green light. The plant accelerates its growth in response to this stress hormone.
But there are plants that are resistant to extreme climates
Schrenkiella parvula is a family member Brassicaceae , which contains cabbage, broccoli, turnips and other essential food crops. “In regions where climate change is expected to increase the duration and intensity of droughts, it would be helpful if these crops could withstand or even thrive during these dry spells,” the scientists say in a statement about their findings.
In response to stress triggered by dry or cold spells and increased salinity, plants produce a hormone called abscisic acid, which activates specific genes that tell the plant how to respond. While other plants examined by scientists reduced or stopped their growth under such conditions, Schrenkiella parvula it continued to take root at an even faster pace.
By engineering a similar stress response in related food crops, we could strengthen them against the slings and booms of a changing climate, scientists say.
“We’re trying to figure out what the secret is to these plant species: what allows them to grow in these unique environments and how we can use this knowledge to engineer specific traits into our crops,” Dinneny says.
Moreover, because Schrenkiella parvula It is also related to several species of oilseeds, these could be engineered to grow even on land unfavorable to other crops and used as sustainable sources of jet fuel and other biofuels.
“You want to grow bioenergy crops on land that is not suitable for growing food, for example, an agricultural field that has degraded the soil or accumulated salinity due to inadequate irrigation,” observes Dinney. “These areas are not prime agricultural real estate, but land that would otherwise be abandoned.”
By Daniel T. Cross. Articles in English