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Scientists make breakthrough in research that could transform the way we grow wheat — here's what they found

"This finding is a useful tool to engineer root systems to improve yield under drought conditions in wheat."

"This finding is a useful tool to engineer root systems to improve yield under drought conditions in wheat."

Photo Credit: iStock

A team of international scientists has discovered how to make wheat plants drought-resistant to survive harsh conditions. 

Wheat production has been significantly impacted by water stress, as adjusting to a warming climate and growing population has become more critical. 

Gilad Gabay, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, explained the discovery, saying that "the root absorbs the water and the nutrients to support plants' growth. This finding is a useful tool to engineer root systems to improve yield under drought conditions in wheat."  

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The scientists found they could stimulate roots to grow longer after using the appropriate amount of copies of a certain gene group. 

The discovery of the family of genes — known as OPRIII — and that the length of the plant roots is affected by the different copies of those genes is huge progress in mitigating the effects of droughts. 

"The duplication of the OPRIII genes results in increased production of a plant hormone called Jasmonic acid that causes, among other processes, the accelerated production of lateral roots," said UC Davis professor and project leader Jorge Dubcovsky.

The team found that while increasing the copies of those genes resulted in shorter and branched roots, placing a rye chromosome led to decreased OPRIII wheat genes, which allowed for longer roots. If they can adjust the amount of OPRIII genes present, they can create root systems to withstand various conditions and thus benefit growers planting in drought-prone areas. 

These genetic adjustments in wheat plants can be an example of high yield for other crops amidst a globally growing population

These developments couldn't have come at a better time, as farmers have been severely affected by droughts. Kansas recently prepared for what was predicted to be the worst wheat crop in the last 60 years. With climate conditions affecting water sources heavily relied on in the past, items we know and love have also been jeopardized.

"It is definitely a huge economic hit to not only farmers but also the rural communities where they live and others involved in the industry," Marsha Boswell, spokesperson for the Kansas Wheat Commission and the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, told the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Clay Schemm, a Kansas farmer, reinforced the sentiment to Reuters, as he was one of many last year who decided to destroy their crops with chemicals in order to receive insurance payouts.

The discovery of extending root lengths goes beyond wheat production to feed a larger society but also gives us the opportunity to reflect on our relationship with food

While rising temperatures may cause concern about achieving our basic needs, innovations such as these provide hope in the creativity and community that can lead to a thriving society.

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