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H          arvest for the World?

              The world’s population is projected to increase from 7.4bn to 8.1bn by
              2025, according to the UN-affiliated Food and Agriculture Organisation,
              which forecasts that 80% of the increase needed in crop production will
              need to come from higher yields because of the limited scope to turn more

              land over to agricultural use. Genetic modification can boost crop yields,
              but has its limits in what can be achieved and has yet to achieve worldwide
              public acceptance.

              Research by the Davis group in collaboration with   Plants were harvested after re-watering to assess biomass
              Matthew Paul at Rothamsted Research shows promise   recovery after the drought period.
              for a new way forward.  They have created a synthetic
              molecule that when applied to crops can increase the   The study showed that the T6P spray created a ‘pulse’
              size and starch content of wheat grains by up to 20%.    which resulted in more sucrose being drawn into the
              The results of the study, published in Nature*, detail the   grain to make starch, increasing the wheat grain size and
              method, based on using synthetic precursors of the sugar   yield by 20%.  The study also demonstrated that the spray
              trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P), which regulates sucrose use   could enhance plants’ ability to recover from drought.
              and allocation in plants. The more T6P that is available to   And because T6P performs the same function in all plants,
              wheat grains as they grow, the greater the yield.  However,   the technique could potentially be applied to many other
              in its normal state, T6P cannot be taken up by plants.    crops.
              By attaching different chemical groups, the researchers   Professor Ben Davis said: ‘The tests we conducted in the
              developed a plant-permeable analogue of T6P that could   lab show real promise for a technique that, in the future,
              be taken up by plants and released in sunlight.     could radically alter how we farm not just wheat but many
                                                               different crops.  The “green revolution” in the 20th century
              The modified T6P was tested in the lab under controlled
              environmental conditions.  Wheat plants were grown until   was a period where more resilient, high-yield wheat
              each plant flowered, after which varying concentrations of   varieties were created, an innovation that has been claimed
              T6P solution were added to different plants to assess the   to have helped save one billion lives.  By developing new
              effect that each concentration had on growth.  The wheat   chemical methods based on an understanding of biology,
              was sprayed with the solutions either on the ears or the   we can secure our food sources and add to this legacy.
              whole plant at intervals of five days after the plants first   That way we can make sure as many people have access to
              flowered, with just one application sufficient to increase   enough food as possible and that the less fortunate can be
              yield.  The plants were then harvested once ripe, and the   rescued from unexpected hardship.’
              grains weighed and analysed for the amount of starch
              and protein present.  To test the responses to drought   Reference:
              conditions, plants were grown until just before they   Nature  540, 574–578 (22 December 2016) doi:10.1038/
              developed stems.  They were then deprived of water for   nature20591
              ten days, with T6P solutions being added on the ninth day.

              Periodic       The Magazine of the Department of Chemistry
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