Sub-Saharan Africa’s population continues to grow, with the prediction that the population will double by 2050 and peak by 2100. This poses a challenge in meeting the demand for staple food in a region where self-reliance in cereal production, a major staple food, is the lowest globally in terms of productivity. As a result, cereal demand is projected to triple. Yet, cereal yields are very low, and the current consumption is already dependent on substantial imports, placing the continent at a great risk of food insecurity.
Today’s cities don’t have walls for protection like ancient ones, but they are separate from less urban and rural land. Most goods that city-dwellers purchase are brought in from rural farms and manufacturers. There is an active community of urban gardeners and landscape architects who are trying to bring more of the “country” back into the city. And for good reason. Urban landscapes combining trees and crops – urban agroforestry – can offer ecological, cultural, economic benefits and more.
New research shows that since modern crop varieties were introduced in the developing world starting in 1961, they have substantially reduced infant mortality, especially for male babies and among poor households.
A team of scientists has developed a way to potentially thwart the spread of a disease-causing bacterium that harms more than 100 plant species worldwide, an advance that could save the nursery industry billions a year.
In a way, plants are energy wasters: in order to protect themselves from excessive electron transport, they continuously quench light energy and don’t use it for photosynthesis and biomass production. A mutation can make them work more efficiently. To this end, the research team identified several thousand proteins, determined their respective amounts in mutant and reference lines and combined the findings with measurements of photosynthetic performance.
Glyphosate is a widely used broad-spectrum herbicide that targets both broadleaf plants and grasses (dicots and monocots). This recent work aids our understanding of adaptive evolution in amaranth plants and has implications for optimizing pesticide use in the environment.
A common agricultural spray may be the key to preventing smoky flavor. It’s a problem plaguing grape-growers worldwide—in an ever-changing climate, how can they protect their crops from the undesirable effects of wildfire smoke exposure.
Collectively organising agricultural nature management leads to increased levels of trust between those involved, as well as to a more confidence in the policy.
Speedy Recovery: New Corn Performs Better in Cold
Nearly everyone on Earth is familiar with corn. Literally.
Around the world, each person eats an average of 70 pounds of the grain each year, with even more grown for animal feed and biofuel. And as the global population continues to boom, increasing the amount of food grown on the same amount of land becomes increasingly important.
One potential solution is to develop crops that perform better in cold temperatures. Many people aren’t aware that corn is a tropical plant, which makes it extremely sensitive to cold weather. This trait is problematic in temperate climates where the growing season averages only 4 or 5 months – and where more than 60% of its 1.6 trillion pound annual production occurs.
A chilling-tolerant strain could broaden the latitudes in which the crop could be grown, as well as enable current farmers to increase productivity.
A group of researchers led by David Stern, president of the Boyce Thompson Institute, have taken a step closer to this goal by developing a new type of corn that recovers much more quickly after a cold snap. Stern is also an adjunct professor of plant biology in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The research is described in a paper published online in Plant Biotechnology Journal.
“In the field, chilling stress happens most often in the spring when cold temperatures combine with strong sunlight, causing plants to bleach,” Stern said. “So a more chilling-tolerant corn could help farmers plant earlier in the year with confidence that their crop would survive a cold spell and bounce back quickly once the weather warmed up again.”
This work built on research published in 2018, which showed that increasing levels of an enzyme called Rubisco led to bigger and faster-maturing plants. Rubisco is essential for plants to turn atmospheric carbon dioxide into sugar, and its levels in corn leaves decrease dramatically in cold weather.
In the latest study, Stern and colleagues grew corn plants for three weeks at 25°C (77°F), lowered the temperature to 14°C (57°F) for two weeks, and then increased it back up to 25°C.
“The corn with more Rubisco performed better than regular corn before, during and after chilling,” said Coralie Salesse-Smith, the paper’s first author. “In essence, we were able to reduce the severity of chilling stress and allow for a more rapid recovery.” Salesse-Smith was a Cornell PhD candidate in Stern’s lab during the study, and she is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois.
Indeed, compared to regular corn, the engineered corn had higher photosynthesis rates throughout the experiment, and recovered more quickly from the chilling stress with less damage to the molecules that perform the light-dependent reactions of photosynthesis.
The end result was a plant that grew taller and developed mature ears of corn more quickly following a cold spell.
Steve Reiners, a co-team leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s vegetable program, says that sweet corn is a major vegetable crop in New York, worth about $40-$60 million annually. He notes that many New York corn growers plant as soon as they can because an early crop commands the highest prices of the season.
“Many corn growers in New York plant early under protective plastic sheets to increase soil temperatures, which is expensive. Chilling-tolerant corn could allow farmers to remove that plastic sooner,” Reiners said. “This would expose the plants to additional sunlight, potentially enabling them to mature earlier in the season and get farmers those higher prices.”
Reiners, who was not involved in the study, is also a professor of horticulture at Cornell.
“The corn we developed isn’t yet completely optimized for chilling tolerance, so we are planning the next generation of modifications,” said Stern. “For example, it would be very interesting to add a chilling-tolerant version of a protein called PPDK into the corn and see if it performs even better.”
The researchers believe their approach could also be used in other crops that use the C4 photosynthetic pathway to fix carbon, such as sugar cane and sorghum.
Co-authors on the paper include researchers from The Australian National University in Canberra.
Read the paper: Plant Biotechnology Journal
Article source: Boyce Thompson Institute
Author: Aaron J. Bouchie
Image credit: Jason Koski/Brand Communications
Alternaria blight caused by fungal pathogen devastates Brassica crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and mustard seed. Highly infectious, this fungus can infect the host plant at all stages of growth. Currently Alternaria blight is managed by chemical fungicides, but recently efforts have been made to utilize breeding and modern biotechnological approaches to develop blight-resistant crop varieties.