Researchers have identified a thermostat-like gene that could help engineer drought-resistant crops so that they can produce more food with less water.
The gene, called OSCA1, encodes a protein in the cell membrane of plants that senses changes in water availability and adjusts the plant’s water conservation machinery accordingly. “It’s similar to a thermostat,” said Zhen-Ming Pei, an associate professor of biology at Duke University.
The findings could make it easier to feed the world’s growing population in the face of climate change, researchers said. Drought is the major cause of crop losses worldwide. A dry spell at a crucial stage of the growing season can cut some crop yields in half.
The gene was identified in Arabidopsis thaliana, a small unassuming plant related to cabbage and canola that is the lab rat of plant research.