Nav: Home

Small genetic differences turn plants into better teams

November 05, 2018

The ongoing worldwide loss of biological diversity is one of the most pressing challenges humankind currently faces. Biodiversity is vital to humans not least because it supports ecosystem services such as the provision of clean water and the production of biomass and food. Many experiments have shown that diverse communities of organisms function better in this regard than monocultures. "In mixed communities plants engage in a kind of division of labor that increases efficiency and improves the functioning of the community as a whole," explains Pascal Niklaus from the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies of the University of Zurich.

Nevertheless, modern agricultural practice mainly relies on plant varieties that are genetically uniform, since they make it easier to grow and process crops. The benefits of diverse communities therefore remain untapped, also because the underlying mechanisms are not yet fully understood. "Despite intensive research, we currently don't know which properties make plants good players in such mixed teams," says Samuel Wüst, main author of the study.

Plants grow better in mixed teams

The two researchers addressed this question by combining modern genetic and ecological approaches. As a test system, they focused on common wallcress (Arabidopsis thaliana), a small crucifer that is genetically well documented. They used systematic crosses of varieties of these plants, which were grown in pots in different combinations. After a few weeks, the researchers weighed the resulting biomass, which allowed them to compare the growth of the plants. As expected, pots with mixtures of different crosses were indeed more productive on average.

Small genetic differences improve yield

Using statistical analyses, the researchers then related the yield gain in mixed communities to the genetic makeup of the crosses. The genetic map they obtained in this way enabled them to identify the parts of the genome that made the combination of plants good mixed teams. They found that even the smallest genetic differences between plants were enough to increase their combined yield.

"We were very surprised that complex and poorly understood properties such as the suitability to form a well-performing mixture had such a simple genetic cause," says Samuel Wüst. He thinks that their method may help to breed plants that are good team players and thus yield more crops. "Our insights open up completely new avenues in agriculture," adds Wüst.
-end-


University of Zurich

Related Biomass Articles:

Upgrading biomass with selective surface-modified catalysts
Loading single platinum atoms on titanium dioxide promotes the conversion of a plant derivative into a potential biofuel.
A novel biofuel system for hydrogen production from biomass
A recent study, affiliated with South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) has presented a new biofuel system that uses lignin found in biomass for the production of hydrogen.
Biomass fuels can significantly mitigate global warming
'Every crop we tested had a very significant mitigation capacity despite being grown on very different soils and under natural climate variability,' says Dr.
Traditional biomass stoves shown to cause lung inflammation
Traditional stoves that burn biomass materials and are not properly ventilated, which are widely used in developing nations where cooking is done indoors, have been shown to significantly increase indoor levels of harmful PM2.5 (miniscule atmospheric particulates) and carbon monoxide (CO) and to stimulate biological processes that cause lung inflammation and may lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to new research published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
Biotech breakthrough turns waste biomass into high value chemicals
A move towards a more sustainable bio-based economy has been given a new boost by researchers who have been able to simplify a process to transform waste materials into high value chemicals.
How preprocessing methods affect the conversion efficiency of biomass energy production
Research on energy production from biomass usually focuses on the amount of energy generated.
Supercomputing improves biomass fuel conversion
Pretreating plant biomass with THF-water causes lignin globules on the cellulose surface to expand and break away from one another and the cellulose fibers.
Whole-tree harvesting could boost biomass production
Making the shift to renewable energy sources requires biomass, too.
Left out to dry: A more efficient way to harvest algae biomass
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba develop a new system for evaporating the water from algae biomass with reusable nanoporous graphene, which can lead to cheaper, more environmentally friendly biofuels and fine chemicals.
Symbiotic upcycling: Turning 'low value' compounds into biomass
Kentron, a bacterial symbiont of ciliates, turns cellular waste products into biomass.
More Biomass News and Biomass Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.