New method might make plants 'super water seekers'

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Washington, July 31 : Researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel have devised a new solution to the inefficiency of current irrigation methods, by genetically modifying plants' root systems to improve their ability to find the water essential to their survival.

Due to current irrigation methods, more irrigated water evaporates than reaches the roots of crops, amounting to an enormous waste of water and energy.

"Improving water uptake by irrigated crops is very important," said Professor Amram Eshel, the study's co-researcher from Tel Aviv University's Plant Sciences Department.

His team, with that of Professor Hillel Fromm, hope to engineer a plant that takes advantage of a newly discovered gene that controls hydrotropism, a plant's ability to send its roots towards water.

Scientists in TAU's lab are observing plants that are grown on moist air in the University's lab, making it possible to investigate how the modified plant roots orient themselves towards water.

Until now, aeroponics (a method of growing plants in air and mist) was a benchtop technique used only in small-scale applications.

The current research is being done on the experimental model plant Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard.

"Our aim is to save water," explained Professor Eshel. "We are increasing a plant's efficiency for water uptake. Plants that can sense water in a better fashion will be higher in economic value in the future," he added.

There can be significant water-saving consequences for farmers around the world.

According to research doctoral student Tal Sherman, who is working under Prof. Amram Eshel and Prof. Hillel Fromm, "We are developing plants that are more efficient in sensing water."

In fact, new insights from the Tel Aviv University study could lead to plants that are super water seekers.

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