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U of M researcher's 'Darwinian Agriculture' explains how evolution can improve agriculture
Date:7/25/2012

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (07/25/2012) The largest drought in 50 years has severely damaged much of the nation's "corn belt" and is threatening the viability of Minnesota's 2012 corn crop. While an extreme, this summer's condition is a reminder of a larger challenge facing agriculture to use limited resources like water in an effective and sustainable manner.

R. Ford Denison, an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, seeks to address these challenges through the dual prism of science and nature in his new book, Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture.

"The need to produce a higher yield is continually growing, yet natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce," says Denison. "Improving crop genetics and avoiding costly dead ends in the process is paramount to the long term sustainability of agriculture. This requires a comprehensive approach, one that incorporates the lessons of nature when applying modern science."

Linking evolution to agriculture was natural for Denison, who researches evolutionary biology in the university's College of Biological Sciences and helps to plan long-term field research for the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. He discusses how both biotechnology and traditional plant breeding can and should benefit from considering past evolutionary improvements in traits like drought tolerance when identifying promising routes for further genetic improvement.

Analyzing the implications of evolutionary tradeoffs, Denison argues in Darwinian Agriculture that biotechnology and breeding efforts should sometimes reverse the results of past evolution that are inconsistent with present goals. For example, the ratio of photosynthesis to water use is greater for a plant in the morning when humidity is higher; it would therefore sometimes be better for crop yield if plants simply shut down in the afternoon. Why then, Denison asks, have plant
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Contact: Matt Hodson
mjhodson@umn.edu
612-625-0552
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert

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