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Cereal Crops Brace For Flooding

Feb 09, 2015 06:18 PM EST
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As the global climate continues to change and extreme weather becomes the new norm, farmers worldwide have struggled to adapt and their harvests and are falling victim. Increased flooding is one such concern, so scientists have created cereal crops that can better brace for catastrophic flooding events.

Described in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, a team at The University of Nottingham has identified the mechanism that plants use in stressful conditions to sense low oxygen levels. By learning how they respond to hostile environments such as flooding, scientists were able to apply advanced breeding techniques to plants and reduce yield loss in waterlogged conditions.

"We now have the strategy developed for plant breeding to select for enhanced tolerance to waterlogging in barley and other crops," researcher Michael Holdsworth said in a statement.

Researchers chose to focus on barley because it's more susceptible to waterlogging compared to other cereal crops. Too much rainfall can reduce average yields by up to 50 percent. But the new breeding technique can help plants such as barley learn to resist these stressful situations, which is crucial especially in high-rainfall areas of the world.

Plants starved of oxygen (hypoxia) during flooding cannot survive for long periods of time. Persistent flooding and saturated arable land can wipe out crops and reduce harvests so the search for flood tolerant crops is a key target for global food security. Especially considering that the human population worldwide is increasing beyond sustainable levels and food security is a major issue.

In the study researchers found that the N-end rule pathway controls plant responses to hypoxia by regulating transcription factors known as ERFVII. By reducing the expression of the N-end rule pathway, the team was able to program plants to respond favorably in the face of increased flooding.

"Barley cultivars with the capability to withstand waterlogging have excellent growth, superior yields, retain their green appearance due to chlorophyll retention and have a more efficient metabolism even in low oxygen conditions," Holdsworth said.

It seems that reprogramming plants to respond in certain ways to environmental conditions may be the answer to food security in the future, especially as the climate continues to change. For example, scientists conducted a similar experiment with Arabidopsis and tomato plants, tricking them into tolerating drought.

Most plants, it seems, were not made for extreme weather like floods and drought, but a little tweaking by scientists may be able to change that.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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