Farmers could one day control when their crops ripen after the development of modified rice that flowers on demand.
Despite how advanced our agricultural technology has become, outdoor plants still develop according to the whims of nature — the gentle warmth of early summer sun, the soft patter of spring rains.
Japanese scientists wanted to see if they could remedy this and make them develop instead in response to the soft patter of something else: fungicide.
[University of Tokyo] professor [Takeshi] Izawa’s research, published in the journal Nature Plants, began by first genetically engineering rice so that it never flowered. Then, he and his colleagues tweaked the plants again so that the mechanisms controlling flowering were switched on only by contact with a particular fungicide.
A month and a half after being sprayed, the rice reliably flowered. If it was not sprayed, it did not. For the first time, this gave the farmer the power to choose when the crops developed.
Professor Izawa said the researchers now wanted to move their experiments to the country’s paddy fields to see if this could lead to more efficient harvests in the real world. He also said there was no reason why they could not extend the same method to other important crops, including maize and wheat.
[Read the full study here (behind paywall).]
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