Using plant biology to address climate change | MIT News

On April 11, MIT introduced for the primary time 5 multi-year flagship initiatives. Local weather Main Challenges, a brand new initiative to deal with advanced local weather challenges and ship breakthrough options to the world as quickly as potential. This text is the fourth in a five-part collection highlighting essentially the most promising ideas to emerge from the competitors and the interdisciplinary analysis groups behind them.

The influence of our altering local weather on agriculture and meals safety – and the way modern agriculture contributes to local weather change – is on the forefront of MIT’s multidisciplinary venture, “Revolutionizing agriculture with low-emission, resilient crops.” One of many 5 successful initiatives within the Mission Local weather Main Challenges competitors, the venture brings collectively researchers from the departments of Biology, Organic Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“Our workforce’s analysis goals to handle two interconnected challenges: first, the necessity to cut back greenhouse gasoline emissions produced by agricultural fertilizers; secondly, the truth that the yields of many current agricultural crops will decline as a result of results of local weather change on plant metabolism,” stated Christopher Voigt, the venture’s college chair, Daniel IC Wang Professor of Organic Engineering at MIT. “We’re pursuing six interdisciplinary initiatives which can be key to our total objective of growing low-emission strategies to fertilize bioengineered crops to be extra resilient and productive in a altering local weather.”

Whitehead Institute members, plant biologists Mary Gehring and Jing-Ke Weng, who’re additionally affiliate professors within the MIT Division of Biology, will lead two of those initiatives.

To advertise crop resilience

For many of human historical past, local weather change occurred regularly over a whole lot or hundreds of years. This velocity allowed the crops to adapt to modifications in temperature, precipitation, and atmospheric composition. Nonetheless, anthropogenic local weather change occurred a lot quicker and crop crops have been broken: Crop yields fell in lots of areas, as did seed protein content material in cereal crops.

“If we wish to present ample nutritious meals for the Earth, we have to develop basic mechanisms for bioengineering all kinds of crop crops that will likely be each satisfying and nutritious within the face of our altering local weather,” says Gehring. In his earlier work, he had proven that many facets of plant copy and seed growth are managed by epigenetics, that’s, data outdoors of the DNA sequence. He makes use of this data and the analysis strategies he has developed to establish methods to create plant varieties that produce extra productive and sturdy seeds from current meals crops.

However plant biology is advanced, and whereas it’s potential to mix dissimilar mum or dad lineages to develop crops that combine traits that improve robustness, scientists are nonetheless studying how to make sure that new traits are handed from one technology to the subsequent. “Vegetation with traits that improve vigor have ‘hybrid viability,’ and we consider upkeep of those traits is managed by epigenetics. hybrid vigor, however these traits will not be inherited. That’s the reason farmers who develop a lot of at present’s best maize varieties have to purchase new batches of seeds every year,” Gehring stated. “Furthermore, many necessary meals crops have but to know the advantages of hybrid energy.”

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