A team of Israeli scientists has developed a new technology that may enable crops to weather droughts worldwide, thus minimizing famine and strife. The team, led by Professor Shimon Gepstein, Chancellor of Kinneret College, genetically engineered a plant that can withstand droughts by ‘freezing itself’ after not receiving water for a certain period of time. The plant then ‘returns to life’ after the water supply is renewed, and this occurs without incurring any damage to the plant’s physical structure.
The breakthrough came by accident, while the team was running experiments on prolonging plants’ longevity and the shelf-life of vegetables. Experimenting on tobacco leaves, the scientists were able to develop a plant that lives twice as long as the average tobacco plant. When the tips of the plant leaves were cut off, the regular plants yellowed and died after a week, whereas the genetically engineered plants stayed green for a full 21 days.
The breakthrough was revealed when some of the plants were left in the green house unattended for four weeks. Tobacco plants require watering every two to three days. When the plants were discovered they had not lost their vitality. The team decided on a series of monitored tests: Regular and engineered plants were not watered for three weeks. The regular plants died, whereas the engineered plants once again began to grow after receiving water, having incurred no damage during the ‘drought period’.
This discovery is especially significant for the State of Israel. Wheat is planted at the beginning of the winter and sprouts after the first rain, but will die if there is no subsequent rainfall. With this new technology, the wheat shoots will be able to withstand considerable amounts of time with no rain. Furthermore, many scientists forecast more common worldwide draughts in the future as a result of climate change, and this newly acquired knowledge may serve as a solution to this looming global threat.
Lastly, the engineered plants flourished with only a third of the water usually required to water plants. With water sources dwindling, this new Israeli technology may be the key for the survival of agriculture in various areas in the world.
A spokesman for Kinneret College told Tazpit News Agency that the findings are already being implemented, and that international firms have expressed interest in the technology.