• Tech Tech

Scientists discover potential method to make crops flood-tolerant: 'One of the biggest problems of present-day agriculture'

The researchers still need to optimize this technique for key crops.

The researchers still need to optimize this technique for key crops.

Photo Credit: iStock

Most of us have accidentally drowned a houseplant or two. But what if we told you giving your plants too much water can be as damaging as not watering them at all?

It's a big problem for farmers — one that researchers may have just solved in a surprising way, according to Phys.org.

When fields flood, crops struggle to thrive since they can't get the light and oxygen they need. 

"Flooding is one of the biggest problems of present-day agriculture," said Dr. Kendal D. Hirschi, a professor of pediatrics-nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine. "All crops have this problem, so if we could give plants the ability to be more flood-tolerant, we would provide an important solution to world agriculture."

Dr. Hirschi and his team discovered this potential solution by accident. While studying plants modified to lack a gene called CAX1 that transports calcium, they noticed something unexpected: The altered plants handled flooding and low oxygen better than normal plants.

Further tests revealed that plants lacking calcium transporter genes were more flood-resistant. The genetic changes triggered a cascade of effects, from shifts in gene expression to changes in leaf chemical composition, that helped the plants withstand soggy conditions.

So what does this mean for the future of farming? According to research published in the journal Plant, Cell & Environment, Dr. Hirschi's team has only tested this so far in a plant called arabidopsis. But they're working on applying the technique to major food crops like rice and tomatoes.

Crop damage from floods threatens food security for families in flood-prone areas. These genetically flood-proofed plants could put more food on the table and ensure harvests in the face of increasingly extreme weather as the planet overheats.

By helping crops beat the heat and rain, innovations like these not only protect our food supply, but also the livelihoods of farming communities most vulnerable to our changing climate.

The researchers still need to optimize this technique for key crops. But if they succeed, flood-tolerant rice and tomatoes could be headed to a farm near you in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime, we can all do our part by supporting climate-smart agriculture and curbing the pollution that's cranking up the global thermostat.

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider