WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Scientists could take greater strides toward crop improvement if there were wider adoption of advanced techniques used to understand the mechanisms that allow plants to adapt to their environments, current and former Purdue University researchers say.
In a perspective for the journal Science, Brian Dilkes, a Purdue assistant professor of genetics, and Ivan Baxter, a research computational biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, argue that today's technology could allow scientists to match physiological and genetic characteristics of plants with the soil characteristics that promote or inhibit their growth. Making those connections could reduce the time necessary to improve plants that are coping with changing environmental and climatic conditions.
"Evolution has solved the problems that we face in terms of adapting plants to grow in a multitude of environments," Dilkes said. "If we understand these processes, we'll be able to apply that knowledge to maintaining diversity in natural systems and improving and maintaining crop yield."
The majority of a plant's makeup, besides carbon dioxide, comes from elements and minerals absorbed from the soil as the plant grows. The physiological and genetic mechanisms that allow plants to obtain iron from the soil, for instance, can also cause the plant to accumulate other elements. Understanding how those changes interact is an important piece of improving plants, Baxter said.
"This is just a hint of the complexity that's out there," said Baxter, a former post-doctoral researcher at Purdue who works for the USDA at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. "If we're going to make the necessary improvements in agricultural productivity, we will have to move forward with these techniques."
Much of the work done to understand how plants have adapted to their environments focuses on one gene an
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