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Scientists say new computer model amounts to a lot more than a hill of beans
Date:4/3/2014

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Crops that produce more while using less water seem like a dream for a world with a burgeoning population and already strained food and water resources. This dream is coming closer to reality for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers who have developed a new computer model that can help plant scientists breed better soybean crops.

Under current climate conditions, the model predicts a design for a soybean crop with 8.5 percent more productivity, but using 13 percent less water, and reflecting 34 percent more radiation back into space, by breeding for slightly different leaf distribution, angles and reflectivity. This work appears in the journal Global Change Biology.

"The model lets you look at one of those goals individually or all of them simultaneously," said Praveen Kumar, a co-author of the study who is the Lovell Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Illinois. "There might be some areas where you look at only one aspect if you're in an arid zone, you can structure things to maximize the water efficiency. In other areas you may want to concentrate on food productivity."

Plants have evolved to outcompete other plants for example, shading out other plants or using water and nutrients liberally to the detriment of neighboring plants. However, in an agricultural setting, the plants don't need such competitive measures.

"Our crop plants reflect many millions of years of evolution in the wild under these competitive conditions," said U. of I. plant biology professor Stephen P. Long, also a co-author on the study. "In a crop field we want plants to share resources and conserve water and nutrients, so we have been looking at what leaf arrangements would best do this."

The researchers aimed for three specific areas of improvement. First, productivity. Second, water usage. Third, combating climate change by reflecting more sunlight off the leaves. To address all
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Contact: Liz Ahlberg
eahlberg@illinois.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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