"When soils are acidic, aluminum ions are freed in the soil, resulting in toxicity to the plant," the scientists write. "Once in the soil solution, aluminum damages the root tips of susceptible plants and inhibits root growth, which impairs the uptake of water and nutrients."
From their recent findings, the plant biologists now understand how transport proteins control processes that allow roots to tolerate toxic aluminum. By engineering crops to convert aluminum ions into a non-toxic form, they said, agricultural scientists can now turn these unusable or low-yielding acidic soils into astonishingly productive farmland to grow crops for food and biofuels.
Other recent transport protein developments described by the biologists have been shown to increase the storage of iron and zinc in food crops to improve their nutritive qualities. "Over two billion people suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies because their plant-based diets are not a sufficiently rich source of these essential elements," the biologists write.
The scientists also discovered transporters in plants and symbiotic soil fungi that allow crops to acquire phosphatean element essential for plant growth and crop yieldmore efficiently and to increase the uptake of nitrogen fertilizers, which are costly to produce. "Nitrogen fertilizer production consumes one percent of global energy usage and poses the highest input cost for many crops," the scientists write. "Nevertheless, only 20 to 30 of the phosphate and 30 to 50 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer applied are utilized by plants. The remainder can lead to production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, or to eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems through water run-off."
The biologists said crops could be made more efficient in using water through discoveries in plant t
|Contact: Kim McDonald|
University of California - San Diego