Image: Luc Viatour/Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Luc Viatour/Wikimedia Commons.

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’.

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

1 Response

  1. rich pedant says:

    I’m heartened to know that bot­an­ists (or botan­ical pub­lish­ers) are not too bothered about money mat­ters. But I hap­pen to know that at cur­rent rates, 9 M Euros will buy you over 7.8 M GBP.