They say weeds are just underrated flowers and a new study supports this thought by suggesting that some alleged “weeds” deserve much more attention. Posted in Scientific progress, this document states that Portulaca oleracea, a common plant, also called purslane, can influence the creation of drought-resistant crops completely impervious to climate change.

Super survivor

The planet is currently suffering from a drought like never before. According to a recent report by the United Nations, the number and duration of these disasters have increased by almost 30 percent since 2000. This leaves the world “at a crossroads” in its relationship with land. These incidents take a greater human toll than any other natural disaster during the same time period. And the report stresses the need to develop new drought adaptation strategies “urgently, using every tool we can”.

The new study on purslane suggests that the common plant, possibly native to North Africa, the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent, may be one of the best tools in the toolbox for drought tolerance. The paper reveals that the plant executes two separate metabolic pathways simultaneously. And the purslane has developed a new form of photosynthesis that allows the plant to survive and thrive in the face of hot, dry conditions.

“This is a very rare combination of traits and has created a kind of ‘super plant’ — one that could be potentially useful in endeavors such as crop engineering,” said senior study author Erica Edwards, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, in a press release.

Coping with the heat (and dryness)

How exactly does the purslane withstand drought? According to the study’s authors, all types of plants have evolved their own specific forms of photosynthesis, the process that allows them to absorb sunlight and formulate their own food from carbon dioxide and water. In fact, corn and sugarcane survive high temperatures using different types of photosynthesis called C4, while cacti and agaves stay alive in dry climates using a different form of photosynthesis called CAM. Both processes, the authors say, serve as “add-ons” to the typical pathway of photosynthesis.

Previous studies have suggested that purslane utilizes both C4 and CAM photosynthesis and is highly tolerant of hot and dry conditions. Yet while previous science suggested that purslane uses these two forms of photosynthesis independently in each of its leaves, the new paper challenges that.

By carefully analyzing purslane leaves, the study reveals that the C4 and CAM pathways are fully combined in the purslane plant, acting together in the same cells to provide a high degree of drought protection. Corroborating their findings with metabolic flux models, the authors investigated the development of this combined C4 and CAM pathway for the first time.

According to the study authors, understanding the porcupine’s approach to photosynthesis could inspire innovations in modifying corn and other crops to tolerate drought. “There is still a lot of work to do before this becomes a reality,” Edwards said in a press release. “But what we have shown is that the two pathways can be efficiently integrated and share products.” C4 and CAM are more compatible than we thought, leading us to suspect that there are many more C4+CAM species waiting to be discovered.”

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