Plants play a crucial role in the regulation of the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. They absorb the gas through tiny pores on their leaves called stomata and these pores also release water vapour as the plant grows. In extremely dry weather, a plant can lose 95% of its water in this way. Scientists have been trying to find the gene that controls the response of the stomata for decades.
Now teams in
Professor Jakko Kangasjarvi from the University of Helsinki says this work is the first step on that road "It opens the avenue, it is still several years away but before this publication, there was no single component which would have so many different effects... there was no target to modify, now we know the target," he said.
While the experiments have been done in a variety of cress, the scientists say that the underlying genetic mechanisms are the same in many food plants, including rice. It is believed that this new genetic understanding of how to control the amount of water that plants use could be commercialised within the next 20 years.
Dry earth in the Sonora desert, Mexico, Tomas Castelazo, Wikimedia Commons