Science and agriculture have been working together to feed a rapidly growing population and increasing yields is one of the most important factors in that food production. Because yields are largely determined by a plant’s reaction to the stresses of drought, climate change and salinization of fields researchers at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, the University of Arizona, the University of North Texas, the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center and Baylor College of Medicine have been working to improve a plant’s reaction to these issues.
An improvement in the plant’s reaction in turn improves its water and nutrient use, which then improve the plant’s biomass and yield. Roberto Gaxiola, an associate professor at the ASU School of Life Sciences explains how this important development will help create food security though crop sustainability and performance.
“’We have learned how to modify the expression of a gene that codes for a plant proton pump,” said Gaxiola, lead author of the study. “This gene helps to move photosynthates — or molecules made by photosynthesis in the leaves — to the places plants need them in order to grow better roots, fruits, young leaves and seeds. This gene is called type 1 H+-PPase and is found naturally in all plants.”
With fertilizer usage on agriculture’s radar for water pollution, this new development can help growers by more effectively using the water and nutrients made available to a crop. Fewer resources mean greater environmental and economic sustainability.
“Larger roots allow plants to more efficiently acquire both nutrients and water. We can optimize inputs while minimizing environmental impacts. This is advantageous for our environment and for all consumers,” said Gaxiola.
Altering the expression of this gene in rice, corn, barley, wheat, tomato, lettuce, cotton and finger millet caused better growth in roots and shoots, and also improve how the plants absorbed nutrients. These crops also saw improved water use and tolerance to salt. In finger millet, researchers also discovered an increase in antioxidants, but further studies would be needed to know whether this is the case with other crops as well.
This study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the findings have been published in the scientific journal, Trends in Biotechnology.