Popular Science

Looking at the past…. …to fix the future

Water

Overconsumption, pollution, climate change, and the increasing demands of a swelling population are drying out key agricultural regions like California, the Mediterranean, and Central America.

PROBLEM: regular droughts

SOLUTION: early-rising plants

Since the 1940s, farmers from Texas to South Dakota have relied on the Ogallala aquifer during sporadic dry spells. Now parts of the reserve are getting dangerously low. Agriculture giants Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont have engineered plants capable of muscling through drought, but those seeds cost more, and farmers don’t always get the yield they need to justify the price. The problem is these dry-spell survivors often can’t turn off their drought mode fast enough once the weather shifts. The longer it takes for the crops to reopen the pores in their leaves, which close to prevent precious fluid from evaporating, the less likely they are to take advantage of growth-boosting moisture. But some plants, like an alfalfa relative biologist Roger Deal at Emory University studies, boast genetic material that helps them become fully functional

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