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An international team of scientists aims to develop new tools that may help ensure that India’s future food production keeps pace with the country’s rapid development.

The team, involving scientists from the University of Essex, Cambridge University in the UK, and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Telangana, is focussing on water use efficiency and photosynthetic capacity in pearl millet and sorghum — two key cereal crops in India.

The new tools will look at changes in soil water availability and transport in these crops and how this links to the crop’s photosynthesis efficiency, the researchers said.

The project — Transforming India’s Green Revolution by Research and Empowerment for Sustainable food Supplies (TIGR2ESS) — is an initiative to support cutting-edge research and innovation, addressing the global issues faced by developing countries.

“This partnership will define the requirements for advancing the Green Revolution in India, set the necessary policy agenda, and define a collaborative research programme focused on sustainable crop production and sustainable resource use,” said Professor Tracy Lawson from the University of Essex.

“India has two major challenges with food security — rapid development or population coupled with a challenging climate — extreme spells of rain, high temperatures and drought. Climate change is going to make these conditions even more challenging for crops and yield,” Lawson told PTI in an email interview.

The team will focus on millet and sorghum crops that use water more efficiently without compromising productivity.

Researchers noted that for plants to grow they must photosynthesise, which requires carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

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In order for CO2 to enter the plant, small pores known as stomata on the leaves must open to allow CO2 in, they said. However, as a consequence of being open, water is lost through these pores at a faster rate than CO2 is taken up.

plant stomata function

Some crop varieties open and close these pores more rapidly in response to changing conditions, and therefore lose less water, and some may show increased rates of photosynthesis for the same rate of water loss.

Plant photosynthesis is the process that enables plants to harvest energy from the sun and convert it into products for food and fuel for human use.

“Water is critical to plants and the unpredictability of a water supply is one of the main drivers to negatively affect plant yield,” Lawson said.

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Levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere change over time — so at times when the atmosphere is carbon-dioxide-rich, plants can get away with having fewer stomata since each individual stoma will be able to bring in more carbon dioxide.

In addition to working with colleagues in India, the Essex team will work in the laboratories on campus to reduce water availability, and see how plants can be manipulated so less water will not affect crop loss.

The TIGR2ESS programme – built around six flagship projects – will develop and strengthen alliances across a wide-ranging network of UK and Indian experts in crop science, hydrology, social science and policy, creating a two-way knowledge exchange partnership, the researchers said. PTI SAR

~ PTI Feed with inputs of images from www

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