Turning problems into opportunities : Photorespiration for improved plant metabolism

By | CEPLAS, News, Plant Science

In the quest for more sustainable agriculture, improved crops with reduced photorespiration, a highly energy-consuming process, hold enormous potential. Researchers have now succeeded in developing a solution that connects photorespiration and C4 metabolism, two of the main targets for improving crop yield. This first proof of concept opens the door to plants with enhanced productivity and reduced consumption of resources.

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Global food security: Climate change adaptation requires new cultivars

By | Agriculture, Climate change, News

Climate change induced yield reductions can be compensated by cultivar adaptation and global production can even be increased.

Global agriculture both is one of the major drivers of climate change and strongly affected by it. Rising temperatures are among the main reasons for yield reductions. Therefore, the agricultural sector is faced with the major challenge of adapting to climate change in order to ensure food security in the future. According to a new study carried out by international researchers, the use of locally adapted cultivars can significantly contribute to achieve this goal. The study was led by LMU geographer Dr. Florian Zabel.

For four different climate scenarios, he and his colleagues simulated the impacts of climate change on the global production of maize, rice, soy and wheat and investigated how locally adapted cultivars would affect crop yields. Thereby, the scenarios represent different socio-economic pathways that result in temperature increases ranging between 1.4 and 3.9°C in global average.

Our results show that, at least under moderate warming, we could even increase global yields by almost 20% until the end of the century.

Florian Zabel

“Our results show that, at least under moderate warming, we could generally adapt well to climate change and even increase global yields by almost 20% until the end of the century. Thereby, the increase of atmospheric CO2 partly attributes to the yield increase for some crops, due to positive effects on the efficiency of photosynthesis.” says Zabel.

Strong warming threatens adaptation

If global warming can be restricted to below 1.5°C, as specified in the Paris Agreements, the simulations suggest that 85% of the global cropland area can be optimally cultivated with already available cultivars.

The stronger the warming, the more new cultivars will be needed and the higher the risk that a required locally adapted cultivars that can cope with the changed local conditions will not be available.

In the worst-case scenario, almost 40% of global cropland could require new cultivars.

Florian Zabel

“In the worst-case scenario, almost 40% of global cropland could require new cultivars, of which some would need to have traits that currently do not exist,” says Zabel. Thereby, a critical point is that this even affects globally important production regions, such as North America’s Corn Belt, the world’s most important region for maize production.

“In addition, there are some regions where cultivar adaptation will not be possible, for instance due to a change in future precipitation and possible droughts,” says Zabel. The simulations consider local and regional effects of climate change, and therefore allow identifying regions where locally adapted cultivars could be particularly beneficial for yields. These include large areas of Europe, China and Russia. However, in other parts of the world – including Turkey, Northeastern Brazil, Texas, Kenya and parts of India – adapted cultivars are predicted to have little or no effect on yields, due to a reduction of available water for crops.

Innovative and more efficient breeding methods offer a possible solution. “Conventional breeding approaches often take years,” Zabel points out. “New methods such as CRISPR-Cas could help to develop required cultivars that are specifically adapted to local conditions more quickly and in a more targeted way,” Zabel adds.

The study appears in the journal Global Change Biology. In addition to the authors based at LMU, researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, at Columbia University in the City of New York (USA), the University of Chicago (USA), the Université de Liège (Belgium), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Austria), China Agricultural University in Beijing, the University of Birmingham (UK) and Lund University (Sweden).

Read the paper: Global Change Biology

Article source: Ludwig- Maximilians-Universität München

Image credit: Ludwig- Maximilians-Universität München

How plant hormones control root growth

By | News, Plant Science

Plant roots can grow without limit. To do so, they need to balance the production of new cells via cell division and elongation. Plant hormones known as brassinosteroids play a key role in this balancing act. New work unravels how brassinosteroid production is localized in plant roots for optimal growth patterns.

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Tree species diversity is no protection against bark beetle infestation

By | Forestry, News

In recent years, foresters have been able to observe it up close: First, prolonged drought weakens the trees, then bark beetles and other pests attack. While healthy trees keep the invaders away with resin, stressed ones are virtually defenseless. Freiburg scientist Sylvie Berthelot and her team of researchers from the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources and the Faculty of Biology are studying the importance of tree diversity on bark beetle infestation. They are investigating whether the composition of tree species affects bark beetle feeding behavior. The team recently published their findings in the Journal of Ecology.

In a 1.1 hectare experimental set-up in Freiburg, six native deciduous and coniferous tree species from Europe and six deciduous and coniferous tree species from North America were each planted in different mono- and mixed plots. After the severe drought in the summer of 2018, the Sixtoothed spruce bark beetle mainly attacked the native species: the European spruce and the European larch. “We were surprised that the beetles exhibited only a slight interest in the exotic conifer species, such as the American spruce,” Berthelot says.

While measuring the infestation, the researchers found that the position within the experimental site was also crucial. The trees at the edge were attacked the most. Therefore, Berthelot suspects that the bark beetle entered the testing plot from outside. “In addition, environmental influences weaken the unprotected outer trees more, so they are more susceptible.”

At the same time, the likelihood of which trees the bark beetles will attack changes the more tree species there are. Until now, the researchers assumed that tree diversity reduces the infestation of insect pests such as the bark beetle. But their experiment shows that “increasing tree diversity can reduce the risk of bark beetle infestation for species that are susceptible to high infestation rates, such as larch and spruce. But the risk for less preferred species such as pine or exotic trees may increase with tree diversity, as beetles, once attracted, also attack these trees,” Berthelot says. Although the study indicates that non-native tree species are less attacked because the bark beetles are unfamiliar with these species. “However, this effect may weaken over the years,” she said. As a result, the risk of infestation in mixed forests is redistributed among tree species rather than reduced for all.

Read the paper: Journal of Ecology

Article source: Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

Image: Aerial view of the IDENT tree diversity experiment near Freiburg before (left) and after (right) the 2018 drought and bark beetle infestation. Credit: aerial photos by K. R. Kovach, Sixtoothed spruce bark beetle photo by U. Schmidt.

Terpen-tales: The mystery behind the unique fragrance of the lovely lavender

By | Agriculture, News, Plant Science

Even the mention of lavender evokes the distinct fragrance of the flower. This beautiful flower has been used to make perfumes and essential oils since time immemorial. The aesthetics of the flower have captured the imagination of hundreds, worldwide. So, what makes this flower so special? What are the “magical” compounds that gives it its unique fragrance? What is the genetic basis of these compounds? These questions have long puzzled scientists.

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Preventing the spread of plant pandemics

By | News, Plant Health, Plant Science

Plant diseases don’t stop at national borders and miles of oceans don’t prevent their spread, either. That’s why plant disease surveillance, improved detection systems, and global predictive disease modeling are necessary to mitigate future disease outbreaks and protect the global food supply, according to a team of researchers.

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​​Mapping Citrus Microbiomes: The First Step to Finding Plant-Microbiome Treasures ​

By | Agriculture, Fruits and Vegetables, News, Plant Health, Plant Science

Due to their complexity and microscopic scale, plant-microbe interactions can be quite elusive. Each researcher focuses on a piece of the interaction, and it is hard to find all the pieces let alone assemble them into a comprehensive map to find the hidden treasures within the plant microbiome. This is the purpose of review, to take all the pieces from all the different sources and put them together into something comprehensive that can guide researchers to hidden clues and new associations that unlock the secrets of a system.

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Scientists uncover how resistance proteins protect plants from pathogens

By | News, Plant Science

In plants, disease resistance proteins serve as major immune receptors that sense pathogens and pests and trigger robust defense responses. Scientists previously found that one such disease resistance protein, ZAR1, is transformed into a highly ordered protein complex called a resistosome upon detection of invading pathogens, providing the first clue as to how plant disease resistance proteins work. Precisely how a resistosome activates plant defenses, however, has been unclear.

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