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’.
About the author
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.