For years, scientists have warned that higher temperatures will reduce the number of farms around the world: National Climate Assessment Forecasting a decline in the U.S. harvest. One Model suggestion By 2050, world corn production may fall by 24%. Research published in April Shows that climate change has reduced agricultural output by 21%.

This Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change It is predicted that if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, by 2050, as many as 183 million people will be at risk of starvation.

These findings are reminiscent of the apocalyptic scenes of famine and hunger wars. But scientists say that the research on the impact of climate change on the world’s food system has another important significance: we have tremendous adaptability. They say that a key way is to figure out what makes plants sensitive to heat so that breeders know what to look for when they develop more hardy crops for the future.

With the advancement of technology and scientists drawing genome maps of major crops, research on plant heat stress is booming. Colleen Doherty, associate professor of biochemistry at North Carolina State University, is one of the researchers. She is dedicated to studying how to reduce land use while allowing forests and habitats to grow again.

“And we can do it, we barely touch the potential of plants,” Dougherty said.

Ten years ago, Doherty read Economics Papers Trying to understand why the rice harvest in some places is increasing year by year, while in other places it is beginning to stabilize. What are the differences between those areas where rice production is declining? Economists have found that places with low yields have high night temperatures. When Doherty read this article, a figurative light bulb lit up on her head: she was pretty sure she knew what was going on.

Doherty studies the way plants tell the time. Just like us, when the internal clock of a plant is misaligned, the plant becomes groggy and inefficient. “If you switch a factory from North Carolina time to Pacific time, they will have a jet lag,” she told Grist. Plants use light and temperature to keep time — for thousands of years, they have set their clocks to reliably cool down at night. When the night stays warm, it will throw the delicate work of plants—turning atoms in the atmosphere into sugar—into chaos. Because Doherty has studied the mechanics of this plant spring, she has some ideas about which switches might turn on during the day at night. Sure enough, she and a group of scientists discovered dozens of these cell switches on a hot night, as well as thousands of genes that trigger their effects at the wrong time.Researchers Announced their findings last week In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Next step: zero out the most important of these genes and figure out how they work. Crop breeders can then look for these genes when developing future crops.

Scientists are making Find like This all time. Just last week, Another paper Shows how plant breeders can develop barley plants that can produce more grains as the temperature rises.

Krishna Jagadish, a crop scientist at Kansas State University, is cooperating with Doherty on rice research. He is also studying how warm nights can disrupt the internal biological clocks of wheat and corn. However, he said, university scientists have little funding to translate these findings into new crop varieties that farmers can grow. Private companies usually do this work, which usually takes up to ten years. Jagadish said: “We start to explore, we start to innovate, and then provide clues to the industry that accepts it.”

In other areas—from medical research to clean energy development—government funding can help push the innovation process beyond exploratory research, assist in follow-up investigations, and provide subsidies to help new technologies gain a foothold. Maybe we should do the same with plants, because in the final analysis, Doherty said, food is not optional. “Everyone on the planet faces the problem of eating every day, and climate change will make this problem even more difficult,” she said. “If there is not enough food to feed their children, people will fight-I know I will.”

Crispin Taylor, president of the American Association of Plant Biologists, said that from understanding the inner workings of crop staples, to exploring new forms of agriculture, to benefiting from the wild diversity of plants, the possibilities are huge. But the country has never regarded it as an essential job—the United States spends at least an order of magnitude more on cancer research than crop research.

“Not everyone can get cancer, but everyone can eat it,” Dougherty said. “If you really want to save the world, plants are the place to go.”


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