Genetic engineering innovation makes plants more efficient at using water

genetic engineered crops more efficient water gettyimages 619482430
Somnuk Krobkum/Getty Images
Somnuk Krobkum/Getty Images

The world population is growing rapidly, and that signals big challenges when it comes to how best to feed and fuel everyone our planet has to support. Already agriculture uses 90 percent of the world’s freshwater supply, but this will need to be stretched even further as Earth’s population increases. Fortunately, genetic engineering may be able to help. In work aided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with other institutions, researchers have been able to improve the efficiency of how crops use water by 25 percent — without compromising their yield in the process.

“Although large improvements have been [made] genetically in the yield potential of crops and their drought tolerance, breeding has not improved the amount of water required to make a ton of a given crop,” Stephen Long, director of the RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) project, told Digital Trends. “More productivity has meant more water use, putting ever increasing demands on water use in irrigation, demands that will grow with increasing productivity.”

As Long points out, this balancing act is playing out around the world, including in California’s Central Valley, where in many years a choice has to be made between allowing production of crops on farms and providing sufficient water for the needs of the state’s cities. An even more notable example may be Cape Town, South Africa, a city which has this year come within weeks of running out of water.

The genetic engineering process the researchers employed involved up-regulating the amount of photosynthetic protein produced by a specific gene in the plant by integrating additional copies of the gene into its DNA. This essentially “tricked” the plant into partially closing its stomata, referring to the microscopic pores in the leaf which release water.

In their study, the team tested this hypothesis using tobacco crops, since these are easier to modify and quicker to test than other crops. However, because the gene being altered is found in every plant, this discovery could be applicable to a vast number of crops.

“A unique feature of this work is that we showed it to work in a crop in real-world trials on farmland, not just in the laboratory,” Long continued. “The next step will be to place this in the crops that the Gates Foundation, Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, and U.K. Aid care about: cowpea, the largest vegetable protein source in sub-Saharan Africa, soybean, cassava and rice – and test these crops.”


Driving Daimler’s 40-ton eCascadia big rig isn’t just fun, it’s electrifying

Daimler Trucks brought its all-electric eCascadia semi-truck to the 2019 CES, and invited us to take the wheel. What does it feel like to drive one? Simply electrifying, of course.

It's not all free money. Here's what to know before you try to mine Bitcoin

Mining Bitcoin today is harder than it used to be, but if you have enough time, money, and cheap electricity, you can still turn a profit. Here's how to get started mining Bitcoin at home and in the cloud.

Delete tracking cookies from your system by following these quick steps

Cookies are useful when it comes to saving your login credentials and other data, but they can also be used by advertisers to track your browsing habits across multiple sites. Here's how to clear cookies in the major browsers.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists have developed elastic microbots that can change their shape depending on their environment.
Emerging Tech

Dinosaurs never stood a chance after asteroid impacts doubled 290M years ago

The number of asteroids pummeling Earth jumped dramatically around 290 million years ago. By looking at Moon craters, scientists discovered that d the number of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon increased by two to three times.
Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.
Emerging Tech

Water-based fuel cell converts carbon emissions to electricity

Scientists from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have developed a system which can continuously produce electrical energy and hydrogen by dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution.
Emerging Tech

Scientists investigate how massive stars die in dramatic hypernova events

Our Sun will gradually fade before expanding into a red giant at the end of its life. But larger mass stars undergo extreme explosive events called hypernovas when they die which outshine their entire galaxies.
Emerging Tech

Pilotless planes are on their way, but would you fly in one?

Airbus says advancements in artificial intelligence can help it toward its goal of building a plane capable of fully autonomous flight, though whether passengers can be persuaded to travel in one is another matter entirely.
Emerging Tech

‘Tech vest’ prevents Amazon workers from colliding with robot co-workers

Amazon workers at its fulfillment centers are using "tech vests" to help protect them from collisions with their robot co-workers. The robots already have obstacle avoidance sensors, but the belt offers another layer of safety.