Researchers root out new and efficient crop plants

July 30, 2008
TAU doctoral student Tal Sherman. Credit: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

A part of the global food crisis is the inefficiency of current irrigation methods. More irrigated water evaporates than reaches the roots of crops, amounting to an enormous waste of water and energy.

Tel Aviv University researchers, however, are investigating a new solution that turns the problem upside-down, getting to the root of the issue. They are genetically modifying plants' root systems to improve their ability to find the water essential to their survival.

When it comes to water, every drop counts. "Improving water uptake by irrigated crops is very important," says Prof. Amram Eshel, the study's co-researcher from Tel Aviv University's Plant Sciences Department. His team, with that of Prof. Hillel Fromm, hope to engineer a plant that takes advantage of a newly discovered gene that controls hydrotropism, a plant's ability to send its roots towards water.

Scientists in TAU's lab are observing plants that are grown on moist air in the University's lab, making it possible to investigate how the modified plant roots orient themselves towards water. Until now, aeroponics (a method of growing plants in air and mist) was a benchtop technique used only in small-scale applications. The current research is being done on the experimental model plant Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard.

"Our aim is to save water," explains Prof. Eshel. "We are increasing a plant's efficiency for water uptake. Plants that can sense water in a better fashion will be higher in economic value in the future."

There can be significant water-saving consequences for farmers around the world. "We are developing plants that are more efficient in sensing water," says research doctoral student Tal Sherman, who is working under Prof. Amram Eshel and Prof. Hillel Fromm. The project is funded by a grant from the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to Prof. Fromm and Prof. Eshel.

In the nineteenth century, scientists were already observing that plant roots naturally seek out the wetter regions in soil.

Although the phenomenon is well documented, scientists until recently had no clue as to how the mechanism worked, or how to make it better. New insights from the Tel Aviv University study could lead to plants that are super water seekers, say researchers.

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Explore further: Launch of new Peatland Code could save more than 200 million tons of carbon dioxide

Related Stories

Blue stars survive between rock and hard place

November 19, 2015

Unlocking how some of this state's hardiest plants make a living out of the dry crevices on harsh rocky outcrops could help toughen future food crops against drought as water becomes scarcer globally.

Mars will come to fear my botany powers

November 10, 2015

NASA seems to believe that making space habitable will require more finesse than Elon Musk's "let's nuke Mars" plan, and has funded a couple of synbio projects which seek to provide "the means to produce food, medical supplies ...

Solutions for a sustainable and safe food chain

November 2, 2015

The RESFOOD project recently presented its range of innovative solutions – from biosensing methods for bacteria detection to improved extraction techniques from food by-products – that aim to help boost efficiency and ...

Cleaning up the precious metals industry

October 28, 2015

UvA researchers have discovered a new material that can catalyse the decomposition of cyanide ions in process waste streams. The catalyst has been patented and attracts interest from industry. Germany's oldest gold and silver ...

Plants also suffer from stress

September 4, 2015

High salt in soil dramatically stresses plant biology and reduces the growth and yield of crops. Now researchers have found specific proteins that allow plants to grow better under salt stress, and may help breed future generations ...

Recommended for you

Roboticists learn to teach robots from babies

December 1, 2015

Babies learn about the world by exploring how their bodies move in space, grabbing toys, pushing things off tables and by watching and imitating what adults are doing.

Getting into the flow on the International Space Station

December 1, 2015

Think about underground water and gas as they filter through porous materials like soil and rock beds. On Earth, gravity forces water and gas to separate as they flow through the ground, cleaning the water and storing it ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.