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New methods introduced to help crops adapt to climate change

It is highly likely that climate change will intensify weather events such as drought and heat, which will bring physical stress to crops and threaten severe crop loss. Researchers are working to understand and identify the physiological traits of crops in order to select adaptable, stress-tolerant genes that could help crops survive stressful environments.

Christopher Topp is a researcher with the Danforth Plant Science Center. Topp will introduce his research on crop improvement at the “Physiological Traits for High Throughput Phenotyping of Abiotic Stress Tolerance” conference. The discussion will take place at the Managing Global Resources for a Secure Future International Annual Meeting in Tampa, Florida.

Topp stresses the importance of a crop’s roots, in particular, for its survival. He will present various imaging tools used in studying roots, along with quantitative genetics and molecular biology.

“We aim to understand the relationships among root traits that can be effectively measured in both laboratory and field environments,” said Topp. “Our hope is to identify genes and gene networks that control roots. The ultimate goal is improving whole plant architectural features useful for crop improvement.”

Maria Salas-Fernandez of Iowa State University will also speak at the conference. She will recommend phenotyping techniques that can help crops adapt to climate change through manipulation of their leaf angles and photosynthesis rates.

“Yield is determined by a plant’s capacity to capture light energy in the form of photosynthesis,” said Salas-Fernandez. “It is now recognized that the necessary yield gains to meet global food demands will come from manipulating the photosynthetic capability of plant species.”

The meeting will be held Monday, October 23, and is sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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