The University of Maryland has received a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to lead a multi-institutional research partnership that will aid in developing agricultural crop plants able to withstand drought conditions. The project will focus on guard cells in the canola plant (Brassica napus). Canola is an important oilseed crop grown for both human consumption and biodiesel production. June Kwak, associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland, will lead the research group that will analyze the cellular activity and gene expression in guard cells that influence how plants respond to drought.
Plants lose water through microscopic pores on their leaves that allow water to evaporate and carbon dioxide to enter for photosynthesis. The pores, called stoma, are regulated by "guard cells" which surround each pore and close under drought conditions, thereby promoting plant water conservation.
"Our ultimate goal is to understand how guard cells, and thus plants, respond to drought," says Kwak. "We also want to translate this knowledge to generate plants and crop species that are tolerant of drought, plants that could use water more efficiently."
Drought causes severe damage to crops, resulting in major losses in yield. In addition, fresh water scarcity is one of the major global problems of the 21st century, affecting more than 1.1 billion people worldwide. Climate experts predict that as global temperatures rise, there will be more areas affected by drought globally and that there will be increased variability in the amounts and distribution of precipitation. This will result in profound impacts on global fresh water resources, over 65% of which are used for agriculture. There will be increased competition for water from municipal, industrial, and agricultural users. Kwak says that we lose billions of dollars to drought every year in the United States.
|Contact: Kelly Blake|
University of Maryland