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Needed: Flood-Tolerant Crops

Amanda Huber, Editor

Amanda Huber, Editor

The pursuit of drought-tolerant crops is part of nearly every university ag research department nationwide. But this spring, it wasn’t a lack of rain that prevented planting in many areas. It was too much water.

Of the primary food crops, worldwide, only rice is able to grow in flooded conditions. Why is that? Rice is a grass. Corn is a grass. Why do crops react differently in waterlogged soils?

That’s exactly what researchers at the University of California, Davis, are trying to determine. The research, recently published in the journal “Science,” looked at how other crops, specifically a wild tomato, a garden tomato and a plant similar to alfalfa, compared to rice when submerged in water.

They were surprised to find a number of common gene families that are activated in response to flooding.

Rice was domesticated from wild species that grew in tropical regions and adapted to endure monsoons. Other plants may contain the same genes but did not need to activate them because their adaptation did not involve flooded conditions.

“We hope to take advantage of what we learned about rice in order to help activate the genes in other plants that could help them survive waterlogging,” says study lead Julia Bailey-Serres, a UC Riverside professor of genetics.

These studies will continue and more research like this will be needed if scientists are going to unlock the potential for more of the worlds’ primary food crops to survive both flooding and drought, ensuring future food security.

Send comments to Corn South, 875 W. Poplar Ave., Suite 23, Box 305, Collierville, TN 38017. You may also call 901-767-4020 or email Corn South editor Amanda Huber at ahuber@onegrower.com.

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