Climate change: Heat waves become more intenseFor almost three decades, world leaders have been meeting to try to curb global warming. But in that time Earth has become a much hotter and deadlier planet, and heat waves fueled by climate change are becoming increasingly frequent and intense. (Nov. 3)AP
A new study on plants thriving in one of the harshest deserts on Earth may unlock findings on how we can prevent famine amid the growing effects of climate change.
The Atacama Desert in Chile is known as one of the driest places in the world. With dusty red rocks stretching for miles on end, the region receives only slightly more than half an inch of rain per year, according to National Geographic.
Despite the dearth of water, dozens of species of plants grow in the area. The study calls the desert an “unparalleled natural laboratory to study plant adaptation to extreme environmental conditions.”
One of the effects of climate change is global desertification, and the study cites that, by 2035, 65% of our total land surface will be affected by desertification, up from 48% in 2016. The associated drought, elevated radiation, salinity and extreme temperatures will make it increasingly hard to grow crops in parts of the world.
A combination of climate change, land mismanagement and unsustainable freshwater use is already causing water to become scarce and soils to become poor in minerals in several regions of the world, according to Carbon Brief, a U.K.-based website covering the latest developments in climate science.
More bad news for climate change: Pandemic dip in carbon emissions was temporary, report says
Biden at COP26 climate change summit: ‘None of us can escape the worst that is yet to come’
By studying the genetic makeup of these plants, researchers were able to identify what particular qualities made them so resilient in the unforgiving desert.
So what shared genes showed up in these plants? The most common genes in 32 of the species were in relation to stress response, metabolism and energy production.
Researchers noted 265 genes that provided the desert plants with an evolutionary advantage, and they’ve described this repository as “a ‘genetic goldmine’ to engineer crop resilience to face climate change.”
How did the researchers do it? Turns out, it was an effort that spanned over 10 years and 27 researchers across various institutions and universities around the world. The researchers studied 22 sites at every 328 feet of elevation.
Upon studying the soil, they also found that it lacked many essential minerals typical for plant growth. The study reported “extremely low” levels of nitrogen in all of its samples. The researchers then discovered that nestled near the plant roots were scores of growth-enhancing bacteria. The bacteria can suck nitrogen from the air to provide crucial minerals for the plants, protect the plants against pathogens, make the plants more drought-resistant and increase plant hormone production.
The treasure trove of data gathered from the study has broad implications for the future of food security.
“Some of these extraordinarily resilient plants are closely related to staple crops, such as cereals, legumes, and the potato family, and therefore can provide invaluable genetic material for crop breeding,” the study says.
COP26 tackles land use and desertification
The study was released on Monday as world leaders gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26, a United Nations climate summit aimed at limiting the increase in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
One of the goals of the conference was also to “implement and, if necessary, redesign agricultural policies and programmes to incentivise sustainable agriculture, promote food security, and benefit the environment,” according to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use.