All in the genes: Food fit for a warming world
New research out of the UK's John Innes Centre suggests that it may be possible to engineer cauliflower, broccoli, rapeseed, and other crops, so they're better suited to farming in a world beset by climate change.
The key is in the gene that influences how these plants release their seeds. By tweaking this gene's figurative thermostat, this seed dispersal could be made to happen at higher temperatures, increasing crop yields in warming climes.
The work suggests a possible solution to the problem of premature seed dispersal, also known as pod shatter, caused by seed pots splitting open before harvest. Farmers of rapeseed, for example, lose on average 15 to 20 percent of their yield per year, according to the researchers. And as New Atlas has previously reported, crop yields could well worsen in the face of global warming.
"It's almost as if there is a thermostat that controls seed dispersal, or pod shatter," says Dr. Vinod Kumar, co-author of the research. " As we learn how it works, we could in the future 'rewire' it so seed dispersal does not happen at the same pace at higher temperatures." This could be achieved by modifying the gene previously identified as responsible for pod shatter, INDEHISCENT (IND), making temperature-resilient crops, in Dr. Kumar's words, "an achievable dream."
To demonstrate the link between temperature and pod shatter, researcher Dr. Xinran Li observed fruit development in Arabidopsis, or rockcress, at increasing temperatures.
At higher temperatures, the cell walls prone to shatter were found to stiffen, accelerating the pod shatter itself. To learn whether the findings were applicable to other specifies, the researchers did further tests on Capsella rubella (pink shepherd's-purse), Lepidium campestre (field pepperwort) and Brassica napus (rapeseed).
The researchers found that the results are "conserved across members of the Brassicaceae family," which includes cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and also rapeseed.
According to the research, the findings "provide alternative avenues for crop improvement in the face of climate change." As means of addressing future food supply go, modifying crops may scale better than triple-decker floating farms.
The research was led by Dr. Vinod Kumar and Professor Lars Østergaard. Their paper, Temperature modulates tissue-specification programme to control fruit dehiscence in Brassicaceae, appears in the journal Molecular Plant.
Source: John Innes Centre