Rounding off our look at the elements, like other biota plants need water to live. If insufficiently hydrated they will suspend life activities (at best) or die (at worst). But unlike other biota – such as animals – plants are unable to move to regions of improved water status if they find themselves lacking or suffering excess of this aqua vitae nonpareil; they must put up with whatever the environment throws at them. And given sufficient time, plants have adapted to such extremes – thus we have hydrophytes on the one hand and xerophytes on the other, thanks to evolution over a protracted timescale. But a major concern at present and for the future is the ability of plants to cope with comparatively sudden and often unpredictable changes in the water status of their environment in the short term. Welcome news then that the European Union has stumped up €9 million (about 7.2 million in ‘proper’ money – GBP, £) for research into drought tolerance of crops. The WATBIO (the bizarre ‘acronym’ for ‘Development of improved perennial non-food biomass and bioproduct crops for water stressed environments’) project is funded under the ‘Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology’ Theme of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The consortium is led in the UK by the University of Southampton and will investigate the productivity of crops in a future climate, with emphasis on future expected increases in periods of drought and water shortage. And if the American experience is any guide then there are reasons to be optimistic that drought-tolerant crops can be produced, as has been recently revealed with trials of drought-tolerant maize. And – by way of a reminder of what ‘that pesky weed’ has to offer agronomic research – Sarah Assmann has produced a timely review that showcases ‘natural variation in abiotic stress and climate change responses in Arabidopsis: implications for twenty-first-century agriculture’.
A quick post to highlight a new video up from Ina Vandebroek of New York Botanical Garden. This is about how a botella, a mix of herbs is made for healthcare. If you don’t speak Spanish there are English captions for the video.
One of the things I was thinking as the video went on was that some of these plants could be analysed for their effect. What I hadn’t thought about were the consequences of that. There’s a line in the write up: No scientific plant names were added to protect the Intellectual Property Rights of local communities. It’s a problem that I hadn’t thought of. As an ethnobotanist you’re working to record and possibly protect a community’s use of plants, but that knowledge itself could be used to deprive them.