Plant roots being modified to be better at finding water

July 31st, 2008 - 4:09 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 31 (IANS) Most of the water brought by irrigation to grow crops evaporates even before reaching plant roots, a huge waste of resources that contributes to the global food crisis. Scientists are now modifying roots to improve the plants’ ability to find water. Tel Aviv University researchers are genetically modifying plants’ root systems to improve their ability to find the water essential to their survival.

Since every drop counts, “improving water uptake by irrigated crops is very important”, said Amram Eshel, the study’s co-author and researcher at Tel Aviv University (TAU).

His team, with that of Hillel Fromm, hope to engineer a plant that takes advantage of a newly discovered gene that controls hydrotropism, a plant’s ability to send its roots towards water.

TAU scientists are observing plants grown on moist air in their lab, making it possible to investigate how the modified plant roots orient themselves towards water.

Until now, aeroponics (growing plants in air and mist) was a niche technique used only in small-scale applications. The current research is being done on the experimental model plant Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard.

“Our aim is to save water,” explained Eshel. “We are increasing a plant’s efficiency for water uptake. Plants that can sense water in a better fashion will be higher in economic value in the future.”

There can be significant water-saving consequences for farmers around the world. “We are developing plants that are more efficient in sensing water,” said doctoral student Tal Sherman, who is working with Eshel and Fromm.

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