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expert reaction to genetically engineering crops to need less water

A new study, published in Nature Communications, explore – through genetically engineered tobacco plants – whether it is possible to develop crops that require less water per unit mass of production.


Dr Matthew Paul, Senior Plant Scientist at Rothamsted Research, said:

“This interesting study in tobacco shows how it may eventually be possible to engineer crops that require less water.

“According to the study, overexpressing a photosynthesis gene (for a Photosystem II subunit) reduces stomatal opening without restricting CO2 uptake; as a consequence, plants lose 25% less water than in unengineered plants.

“As this photosynthesis gene is universal, there is potential for translating this research to crops. However, the engineered plants produced less biomass; and any negative impact on yield like this would not be tolerated by breeders, farmers, agribusiness.

“Additionally, it would need to be ensured that crops did not overheat in hot weather due to less evaporative cooling. And there is need for drought testing.

“A next challenge would be to see if the approach works in elite varieties of major crops without negatively impacting their ability to yield under a range of environmental conditions commonly encountered in agriculture.”


* ‘Photosystem II Subunit S overexpression increases the efficiency of water use in a field-grown crop’ by Katarzyna Głowacka et al. will be published in Nature Communications at 4pm UK time on Tuesday 6 March, which is also when the embargo will lift.


Declared interests

None received.


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