The Australian National University (ANU) and James Cook University (JCU) scientists have discovered a “exquisite” natural mechanism that aids plants in limiting their water loss while having little impact on their ability to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), a crucial step in photosynthesis that is crucial for plant growth and crop yield.
The discovery, which was spearheaded by Dr. Chin Wong from ANU, is anticipated to assist plant breeders and agricultural experts in creating more water-efficient crops.
The results of the study, according to study co-author Dr. Diego Marquez of the Australian National University, will have a substantial impact on the agriculture sector and may lead to more resilient crops that can endure drought and other harsh weather conditions.
“Plants continuously lose water through pores in the ‘skin’ of their leaves. These same pores allow CO2 to enter the leaves and are critical to their survival,” Dr. Marquez said.
“For every unit of CO2 gained, plants typically lose hundreds of units of water. This is why plants require a lot of water in order to grow and survive. The mechanism we have demonstrated is activated when the environment is dry, such as on a hot summer day, to allow the plant to reduce water loss with little effect on CO2 uptake.”
The researchers think that by manipulating this water-saving process, it may be possible to develop crops that use less water.
The ANU team’s discoveries are a “dream discovery” from a scientific and agricultural standpoint, said lead author Dr. Wong.
Our main target now is to identify the structures inside the plant that allow this control. We think that water conduits, called aquaporins, located in the cell membranes are responsible. Once we’re able to confirm this, we can then start thinking about how we can manipulate these systems and turn them into an asset for the agricultural industry.Dr. Diego Marquez
“The agriculture industry has long held high hopes for scientists to come up with a way to deliver highly productive crops that use water efficiently,” Dr. Wong said.
“Plant scientists have been dealing with this big question of how to increase CO2 uptake and reduce water loss without negatively affecting yields. Having this mechanism that can reduce water loss with little effect on CO2 uptake presents an opportunity for agricultural scientists and plant breeders researching ways to improve water use efficiency and create drought-tolerant crops.”
Even if the system in place is effective at limiting the amount of water lost from the leaf, the researchers are still unsure of what is causing it.
“Our main target now is to identify the structures inside the plant that allow this control. We think that water conduits, called aquaporins, located in the cell membranes are responsible,” Dr. Marquez said.
“Once we’re able to confirm this, we can then start thinking about how we can manipulate these systems and turn them into an asset for the agricultural industry.”
Co-author Distinguished Professor Graham Farquhar from ANU said: “Finding the mechanism itself was one step, a big one, but there is still work to do to translate this discovery into the industry. We expect that both government and industry will see the value of contributing funds to achieve this goal.”
The research team has just recently been able to formally establish the existence of this water-preserving mechanism, 14 years after Dr. Wong initially hinted at it. This is because years of experimentation and validation of their findings.