The new active ingredient protects plants from drought, despite climate change

A team of scientists led by California Riverside University (UCR), USA, has created a chemical to help plants retain water, which could prevent the annual wave of damage caused by drought and help farmers. Food crops despite climate change.

UCR Professor Professor of Plant Cell Biology Sean Cutler, who led the research, said: 'Drought is the number one cause, associated with annual floods and crop failures worldwide. The chemical is an interesting new tool that can help farmers better manage crop yields when water levels are low. "

Picture 1 of The new active ingredient protects plants from drought, despite climate change
Recovering wheat plants wilted due to drought.Plants after being treated with OP on the right.(Image: UCR)

A study on anti-dehydration chemicals has just been published in Science October 25.This chemical is called Opabactin, also abbreviated as OP.

An earlier version of the OP, developed by Professor Cutler's own team in 2013, called Quinabactin, was the first of its kind. It mimics abscisic acid, or ABA, the natural hormone produced by plants to deal with drought stress. ABA slows plant growth, so it doesn't consume more water than it already has and the tree doesn't wilt.

Scientists have long known that spraying plants with ABA can improve their drought tolerance. However, it is unstable and the cost is high for most farmers.

The active ingredient Quinabactin is a viable alternative to the natural hormone ABA, and companies have used it as the basis of many additional studies, filing more than a dozen patents. However, Quinabactin does not work well for some important crops like wheat, the main crop in the world.

Picture 2 of The new active ingredient protects plants from drought, despite climate change
Reducing dehydration in tomatoes after OP treatment.Thermal imaging shows leaf temperature increase (right), equivalent to less dehydration.(Image: UCR)

When ABA binds to a hormone receptor molecule in a plant cell, it forms two tight bonds, like a hand grabbing a handle. Quinabactin, on the other hand, only grabs one of these handles. Professor Cutler's team has continued to search for millions of molecules that mimic different hormones to cling to both handles. They searched and combined with some chemical techniques to produce an OP result.

OP is 10 times more active than ABA and works very fast. Within a few hours of using the OP, Professor Cutler's team found a measurable improvement in the amount of water for plants. Because OP works very fast, it can help growers more flexible when they deal with drought.

According to Professor Cutler, we cannot predict drought with reasonable accuracy in the future. So, just two weeks ahead of the drought, farmers had enough time to make a decision about whether to use OP or not to improve crop yields.

Syngenta, a chemical company and the National Science Foundation, originally funded this project. Members of the research team included others from UCR, Wisconsin Medical University, Utah State University and Japan Science and Technology PRESTO, as well as Shizuoka, Tottori and Utsunomiya Universities in Japan.

Professor Cutler's group is currently further researching their findings. The OP compound can slow down tree growth, so the team is looking for a molecule that will accelerate it. Such a molecule can be useful in a controlled environment and can be grown indoors where rainfall is not required.

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