How does drought affect agricultural development? José Antonio López Guerrero shares his RNE program “Entre Probetas” with OpenMind to introduce us to the world of agricultural research.
Drought is currently one of the main limitations to crop production in rain-fed systems around the world. For this reason, crossing of varieties and agricultural research have been designed, as far as possible, to improve crop yields under drought conditions. However, the achievements in experimental fields cannot always be easily extrapolated to the progress made in farmer fields, as the characteristics of both scenarios may differ, due basically to the fact that the lack of water may contribute to the generation of different varieties –genotypes– of crops…
In this regard, a multidisciplinary and multinational team of researchers has just published in Science magazinOKe with David Lobell, from Stanford University, as first author, the use of a set of data on corn and soybean production in the U.S. Midwest from 1995 to 2012, always examining crop sensitivity to drought.
Generally speaking, it was found that the yield of both crops increased in absolute terms under all levels of stress, although the sensitivity of corn growth under certain drought conditions also increased. This greater sensitivity occurred despite the improvements in crops.
Among other factors, modern genetics has contributed to a greater density of growth because individual plants are capable of developing better and their roots can penetrate more deeply until they find water. This individual advantage is lost when this greater density of growth is exposed to the stress caused by the lack of water. The results suggest that thanks to agricultural changes, improved plant tolerance to drought tends to translate into high productivity rates, although without reducing the individual sensitivity to such environmental conditions.
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José Antonio López Guerrero (JAL)
Tenured professor of microbiology at the UAM. Researcher and director of scientific culture at the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Centre.