Researchers at Yale University have found that common weed is a super plant that could help develop strong drought-resistant crops. “Portulaca oleracea,” also known as purslane was found to have a unique photosynthesis mechanism that makes it more resilient to drought. 

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The researchers have published the findings in the journal “Science Advances.” The study details the unique characteristics of the weed and why it can be used for future genetic engineering of other crops.

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“This is a very rare combination of traits and has created a kind of ‘super plant’ — one that could be potentially useful in endeavors such as crop engineering,” said Erika Edwards, Yale University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and coauthor of the paper.

Photosynthesis is at the heart of the way in which plants survive droughts and diseases. Different plants have developed ways to enhance their photosynthesis. For instance, corn and sugarcane use C4 photosynthesis, which allows plants to remain productive even at high temperatures. On the other hand, succulent plants, such as cacti, use a type of photosynthesis known as CAM. It allows the plants to thrive in deserts and other dry regions. 

C4 and CAM are advanced systems of photosynthesis that have been achieved by plants through years of evolution and adaptation. Although they have different functions, they use the same biochemical pathways to act as “add-ons” to conventional photosynthesis.

Initially, it was thought that C4 and CAM photosynthesis operated independently. The researchers behind the study reported they have found C4 and CAM to work seamlessly well in the same cells of purslane. This revelation now opens the way for new genetic engineering

“In terms of engineering a CAM cycle into a C4 crop, such as maize, there is still a lot of work to do before that could become a reality,” said Edwards. “But what we’ve shown is that the two pathways can be efficiently integrated and share products. C4 and CAM are more compatible than we had thought, which leads us to suspect that there are many more C4+CAM species out there, waiting to be discovered.”

Such a discovery could help save the world at a time when climate change has increased food insecurity. Scientists are trying to find ways to enhance the resilience of key crops.

Via SciTech Daily

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