April 27, 2009

Genetics may save crops in global warming

U.S. plant molecular biologists say they are developing gene variants of wheat, rice and corn that can produce increased yields under heat stress.

The researchers say the crops under development might be able to prevent the most devastating effects of climate change since rising temperatures associated with global warming are expected to devastate staples, such as rice and corn, by the end of the century.

There is a chance that we might be able to stem the effects on plant yield from this climate change, said L. Curtis Hannah, a researcher at the University of Florida. But a betting man knows that our best chance is to learn to adapt -- to develop crops that will feed people in a hotter climate.

Hannah and his colleagues have developed two heat-stable genetic variants that, under hot environmental conditions, increased the yield of wheat by 38 percent and increased the yield for rice by 23 percent. Yield increases of 68 percent have been observed in corn.

Man has been growing these crops for thousands of years, but we've only had the tools to try to understand what really makes them grow for a relatively short amount of time, Hannah said. There's a long way to go before we have a truly comprehensive picture of why they do what they do.