April 14th, 2018| Topic: RaMbLeS | 0


Ninety percent of global freshwater is taken over by agriculture. And we need more food (and so, more water) to feed and fuel earth’s growing population. What are we gonna do?

We may have found the beginning of some answers in “Photosystem II Subunit S Overexpression Increases the Efficiency of Water Use in a Field-Grown Crop,” published last month in Nature Communications by researchers part of a consortium appropriately called RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency).

Apparently, they unveiled a genetic modification that enables plants to use a quarter less water, with hardly any reduction in crop yield.

Declared Stephen Long, Director of RIPE:

This is a major breakthrough. Crop yields have steadily improved over the past 60 years, but the amount of water required to produce one ton of grain remains unchanged—which led most to assume that this factor could not change. Proving that our theory works in practice should open the door to much more research and development to achieve this all-important goal for the future.”

The scientists, working on the tobacco plant (a standard subject of scientific experiments) increased levels of a photosynthetic protein (PsbS) and tricked plants into closing their stomata, those microscopic leaf pores that help water to escape.

Said first author and postdoc, Katarzyna Głowacka:

When water is limited, these modified plants will grow faster and yield more—they will pay less of a penalty than their non-modified counterparts.”

Of course, closing stomata also means decreasing intake of carbon dioxide, but there’s so much of that in the atmosphere (and apparently increasing, too) that enough carbon dioxide was amassed by the experimental plants without fulling opening their stomata. (A case of global warming helping humanity?)

PsbS relays information about the availability of light. More PsbS (which was what experimenters artificially induced by altering its gene) says there is not enough light for the plant to photosynthesize, which in turn triggers stomata to close.

The plant was biologically hacked!

Another author, Johannes Kromdijk:

Making crop plants more water-use efficient is arguably the greatest challenge for current and future plant scientists. Our results show that increased PsbS expression allows crop plants to be more conservative with water use, which we think will help to better distribute available water resources over the duration of the growing season and keep the crop more productive during dry spells.”

Life, I must say, is generally “dry.” Diseases and disasters, turbulence and turmoil, injustices and inequalities, despair and discrimination, pain and persecution, disorders and dangers, tumult and tribulation. Dry! What are we gonna do?

We need a spiritual hack!

Here’s one, propounded by one who experienced the dryness in the wilderness of Judah, while on the run from his enemies.

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:1–8

That’s the only hope, in a life of dryness. The best hack, ever!

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