One of the major problems confronting the earth today is the severe water shortage in many regions, causing adverse impacts on people, animals, and plants. This is specifically not good for crops that need a lot of water to survive.
Sure, many types of plants survive with less water requirements such as cactus, jade plant, century plant, snake plant, sedum, etc. But all-important food crops such as rice, wheat, maize, sugar cane, etc. are different. They don’t survive in soils that have less water.
Lack of water has already caused food shortages and crises in many countries around the world. In this light, researchers at Tel Aviv University are resorting to genetic modification in attempts at solving this serious environmental, social, and economic problem.
Inefficient water irrigation system
The inefficiency of the present irrigation techniques largely contributes to the global food crisis. The problem is that water in the irrigation system evaporates before they reach the roots of the food crops.
In addition to the food crops gone to waste, this results in a massive waste of time, energy, and funding. Realizing the severity and urgency of the problem, researchers at Tel Aviv University are currently looking at a possible solution by examining the root of the problem, literally. They are genetically modifying plants’ root systems to improve their ability to find the water essential to their survival.
Every drop counts
As the cliché goes, every drop counts. Thus, it is very important that water uptake by irrigated food crops should be improved, says Prof. Amram Eshel, a professor at the Plant Sciences Department in Tel Aviv University and one of the project’s head researchers.
His team, along with Hillel Fromm’s research team, are hoping to genetically engineer plants that take advantage of a recently discovered gene that directs hydrotropism, or a plant’s ability to orient its roots towards where the water is.
In investigating how genetically modified plant roots direct themselves towards water source, the Tel Aviv University scientists are observing plants that grow on moist air.
Until now, the method of growing plants in mist and air (aeroponics) was a bench top method used only in small-scale settings. The Eshel and Fromm are doing their research on Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant that is related to mustard and cabbage.
Environmental and economic consequences
Eshel said that one of their major aims is to conserve water, adding that, "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."
If their research turns out to be success, farmers in many parts of the world will be benefited by the water-saving consequences. According to one member of the research, "We are developing plants that are more efficient in sensing water." The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is funding Eshel and Fromm’s project.
Not a new idea
The idea of modifying plant root systems has its roots in the 19th century, where scientists were already puzzled why roots seek out the soil’s wetter regions.
While this phenomenon is documented thoroughly, scientists and researchers until recently did not know how the mechanism worked and how to improve it. Fresh insights from the current research could lead to crops that are great water seekers.