The current events occurring in the Prairies are droughts. The ongoing drought in the prairies is the result of both natural and human systems. Dought in Prairies is affecting agriculture to a greater extent. Crops are unlikely to survive the drought. Hence, researchers are moving forward with drought-tolerant canola and wheat varieties.

University of Calgary researcher Marcus Samuel developing drought-tolerant canola & wheat lines
What does research involve?

According to Marcus Samuel, more resilient varieties might survive twice as long as normal crops go down in five or six days. Assuming under stressed conditions, crop yield could be improved by at least 10-20%. The genetic and molecular analysis helped researchers to identify the control of drought tolerance by the interaction between two major plant hormones.

The first hormone, abscisic acid (ABA), plays a role in drought tolerance and is important for closing stomatal pores. Stomatal pores regulate the exchange of gases, including water vapor into or out of the plant. When abscisic acid increased in concentration, the stomatal pores are more closed and lose less water.

The second is a group of steroid plant hormones is brassinosteroids (BR). BR interacts with ABA, with a higher level of BR shuts down ABA activity and stomatal pores remain more open. Plants with reduced BR levels are able to tolerate a longer period of reduced moisture.

Using a molecular pathway that produces brassinosteroid and to achieve the right balance between ABA and BR, the research team successfully developed an Arabidopsis plant with normal plant growth but improved drought tolerance.

Canola & wheat varieties

Researchers dveloped a genetically modified canola plant, targeting the same molecular pathway found in Arabidopsis plant. Grown in greenhouse, researchers compared these lines to normal lines and the selected the lines with the best drought tolerance. However, the researchers are in the process of developing non-GMO lines by using gene-editing technology.

Further, reserchers extended their research to develop drought-tolerant wheat. Marcus Samuel and the team developed a mutagenized wheat population. This non-GMO process is called mutagenesis, in which a chemical is used to create random mutations in the wheat genome. Samuel and collaborators have screened over 100,000 mutagenised wheat wheat ines for plants that are more drought-resistant.

The dought-tolerant canola and wheat varities are still few years away from farmers field. In the meantime, here’s hoping the 2021 drought is an even that does not occur again for many more years.

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