A team of scientists has developed a chemical that increases the starch content of wheat crops. The new product could significantly increase wheat yields without the use of genetic modification. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Nature.
Global malnutrition is still a serious problem that is being exacerbated by climate change and droughts throughout the world. Increasing crop yields could help solve this problem but so far, the only proposed methods involve genetic modification. While GMO crops have been determined safe after rigorous studies, many people are still nervous about the idea. This encouraged a team of scientists to investigate possible alternatives.
Researchers from Oxford University and Rothamsted Research focused their attention on a molecule called trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P). T6P regulates the amount of sucrose used by plants. In wheat, this means that extra T6P would result in starchier wheat grains. The research team used this information to test a number of synthetic versions of T6P. The team developed a modified version of T6P that could be sprayed onto wheat plants. The plants would absorb the extra T6P, which would become active when the wheat was exposed to sunlight. This results in wheat grains with extra starch and could increase wheat crop yields by up to 20% after simple applications of the modified T6P. Furthermore, the modified chemical helped protect plants from drought stress, solving another major problem.
The team’s findings show that a simple T6P spray, a modified version of a naturally-occurring chemical, could improve wheat crop yields by up to 20%. The spray encourages the plant to produce more starch and also reduces drought-induced stress. The authors point out that T6P pathways are common in plants and their method could be adapted for use in other crops. This would significantly help the global food shortage while also providing a possible solution for the record droughts occurring throughout the world.
Griffiths et al. Chemical intervention in plant sugar signalling increases yield and resilience. Nature (2016).