How Can You Make Your Plants Drought Proof? Get Them Drunk…
Each trip to Oskaloosa, Iowa to see my wife's family this year has shown me just how little water they have had for the farmers there; including my father and brother in-law. Apparently all they had to do was soak the ground in... BOOZE.
That's at least according to this new study published on Oxford Academic. Basically the research shows that getting plants "drunk" insulates them against drought; in fact, the plants thrived when soil was soaked in alcohol, even after two weeks without watering.
Lead author Dr. Motoaki Seki, of the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan was quoted as saying,
"We find treating common crops such as wheat and rice with exogenous ethanol can increase production during drought. This offers us a cheap and easy way to increase crop yield even when water is limited, without the need for genetic modification."
This tolerance occurs based on the metabolomic and transcriptomic profiles that regulate the drought-stress response when alcohol is introduced. Basically Ethanol can be thought of like this; a small amount of the chemical is the same as a large number of normal alcoholic beverages. So for people its immediate effects include nausea, vomiting and intoxication. In large quantities, it causes a loss of consciousness and even death. For specifically wheat and rice it has the opposite effect. The plants flourished in soil with three percent ethanol. In the same experiment, they did not survive the arid conditions when it was pre-treated with just water.
What it comes down to, is this; treating those plants with alcohol before drought conditions occurred, prepped them for said drought conditions. Researchers found that when ethanol-treated plants were deprived of water, their stomata closed and leaf temperature went up. By the 12th day of water deprivation, these plants retained more water in their leaves than untreated plants. So, even before water was deprived, the ethanol-treated plants began to express genes that are normally expressed during water deprivation. During the same time that water content was dropping in untreated leaves, the ethanol-treated plants were making sugars from the ethanol and doing photosynthesis.
Their model plants for these trials were rice, wheat, and Arabidopsis; a small flowering plant that is widely used as a model organism in plant biology. They have a quick growth cycle and smaller genome, thereby simplifying and facilitating genetic analysis. This in turn allows extensive genetic experiments to be conducted, often involving tens of thousands of plants.
These experiments could lead to the development of drought defying plants or a new treatment for fields that could lead to drought prevention in existing farms and in arid climates. The main focus of this study was water scarcity as a serious agricultural problem, it causes significant loss in crop yield and product quality. The hope is to develop technologies to mitigate the damage caused by drought stress, ensuring a sustainable food supply for the increasing global population despite weather conditions (lack of rain). The findings highlight a new survival strategy for increasing crop production under water-limited conditions and arid climates.