Agricultural Science Discovers Solution for Recent Droughts
This week, one of the most talked about stories in both the agriculture and science communities involved a group of scientists attempting (and succeeding) to engineer a drought-proof plant. According to an article in the LA Times, these scientists have added a piece of genetic code to the test plants’ DNA that resulted in these plants retaining more water and surviving for up to 12 days without any irrigation.
How did they do it? Well, it has to do with the part of a plant called stomata, which are the small pores on a plant that lets carbon dioxide in and oxygen out. Two guard cells guard these openings and don’t allow water to come out if the cells produce a hormone called abscisic acid (ABA) which keeps the pore closed.
The Times reported that initially many scientists trying to solve the agricultural drought crisis believed that just spraying ABA on these plants would be an easy solution. However, ABA is very expensive to engineer and it isn’t economically feasible for agricultural operations to spray all of their plants with it.
So, rather than using the expensive ABA, they rearranged the plant’s biological DNA so that it reacts to a different, already existing agrochemical (mandipropamid) as if it were ABA. This discovery has been fairly successful so far and is the first recorded use of synthetic biology to reprogram a plant’s response to a specific channel.
The water crisis in California, Texas and many other places around the world has had an extreme effect on agriculture and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Hopefully, agricultural science can continue to discover new and exciting ways for human beings to adapt to the earth’s quickly changing surroundings.