Scientists hope to bioengineer crops that can grow in harsh conditions by unlocking the secrets of drought-resistant plants.

In America, a team at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has pinpointed genes that facilitate the survival of plants like Kalanchoë, orchid and pineapple, in ‘semi-arid conditions’

Through a type of photosynthesis called crassulacean acid metabolism process – or CAM – plants close their pores in daytime and open them to take in carbon dioxide at night.

“CAM is a proven mechanism for increasing water-use efficiency in plants,” said Xiaohan Yang, from ORNL. “As we reveal the building blocks that make up CAM photosynthesis, we will be able to bioengineer the metabolic processes of water-heavy crops such as rice, wheat, soybeans and poplar to accelerate their adaptation to water-limited environments.”

The findings, published in Nature Communicationsfollow another breakthrough by scientists in Japan, earlier this year, who pioneered a strain of drought resistant rice.

Both important discoveries in offering solutions to the challenges of feeding a growing population, at a time of mounting climate change pressures.

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