Desert plant may hold key to surviving food shortage

June 19, 2008

The plant, Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi, is unique because, unlike normal plants, it captures most of its carbon dioxide at night when the air is cooler and more humid, making it 10 times more water-efficient than major crops such as wheat. Scientists will use the latest next-generation DNA sequencing to analyse the plant's genetic code and understand how these plants function at night.

The project will generate a genome sequence database that will be used as an Internet resource for plant biologists throughout the world.

The research comes at a time when farmland across the globe normally used for growing food such as rice and wheat is being taken over by bio-fuel crops used for bioethanol production as a petrol substitute. Scientists believe that the novel genes found in Kalanchoe could provide a model of how bio-fuel plants could be grown on un-utilised desert and semi-arid lands, rather than on fertile farmland needed for producing food.

Biological scientist, Dr James Hartwell, said: "There is a lot of concern over food shortage at the moment, with more farmland being commandeered for bio-fuels. As a result of changes in our climate the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted a large expansion of arid regions so there is an increasing need for new crop varieties that can be productive in deserts.

"Kalanchoe is a good example of how plants can flourish in harsh environments. If we can understand how it is able to photosynthesise using much less water than current crops, we may be able to use its genetic code to develop a crop able to withstand harsh environmental conditions. It is essential that farmland be returned to food production."

The genetic code of the plant will be deciphered using a DNA sequencing machine that uses an enzyme found in fireflies as a flash light to help read the DNA strand.

Source: University of Liverpool

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Egnite
4 / 5 (2) Jun 19, 2008
There's quite a difference between a cactus like plant and edible crops though. How they intend to mix the two is anyones guess...

Even handling Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi can bring you out in a rash so I would stay as far away as possible from eating it. On the other hand, you could say teh same for peyote so it may have some use ^^
runninglate
4.5 / 5 (2) Jun 20, 2008
Btw, its not a cactus. via google, I found the common name for it is lavender or amethyst scallops.

I'm wondering how the plant mechanistically captures most of its carbon dioxide at night... like Stomata open only at night??
deatopmg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2008
Unlike C3 (most plants) or C4 (some grasses like corn); kalanchoe, some orchids and a few other plants use CAM photosynthetic pathway. It has been well known for many decades that these plants can fix CO2 at night so this may be news at the U of Liverpool but to botanists worldwide it's ancient history.

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