Scientists claim that purslane is a “super plant” that holds the key to drought-resistant crops

Not such a pest after all! Scientists claim common garden purslane is a ‘super plant’ that holds the key to drought-resistant crops

  • Purslane is a common herb that many people struggle with in their gardens
  • The plant is able to withstand drought while maintaining high productivity
  • In a new study, researchers find that the plant integrates two distinct metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis

Purslane can be a nightmare for avid growers, but a new study might make you think twice about weeding.

Researchers from Yale University claim that purslane may be a “super plant” that holds the key to drought-resistant crops.

In their study, the researchers found that the plant integrates two distinct metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis.

This allows the herbs to tolerate drought, while maintaining their high productivity.

Professor Erica Edwards, senior author of the study said: “This is a very rare set of traits and has created a type of ‘superplant’ – which can be useful in endeavors such as crop engineering.

Purslane can be a nightmare for avid growers, but a new study might make you think twice before weeding.

What is purslane?

Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, an edible, leafy, frost plant widely used as a herb and salad vegetable.

Fleshy reddish stems are densely covered with lobed leaves of green or golden color, depending on the variety, and grow to a height of 15-20 cm.

Purslane grows quickly from seed and leaves are ready to be picked in 6-8 weeks.

Source: Gardeners World

Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants use sunlight to create nutrients from carbon dioxide and water.

Over time, different species have independently developed a set of distinct mechanisms to improve this process.

For example, corn and sugarcane have developed the process of “C4 photosynthesis”, which allows them to remain productive under high temperatures.

Meanwhile, cacti and agave have developed “CAM photosynthesis,” which allows them to thrive in areas with little water.

While C4 and CAM perform different functions, they both use the same biochemical pathway to serve as ‘additives’ for basic photosynthesis.

Previous studies have shown that purslane possesses both C4 and CAM adaptations, allowing the plant to be productive and tolerant during dry periods.

However, until now, C4 and CAM were thought to function independently within the leaves.

In their new study, the researchers show that C4 and CAM activity are fully integrated in purslane.

In their study, the researchers found that the plant integrates two distinct metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis.  This allows the herbs to withstand drought, while maintaining their high yield

In their study, the researchers found that the plant integrates two distinct metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis. This allows the herbs to withstand drought, while maintaining their high yield

The researchers studied gene expression in purslane leaves, and found that both C4 and CAM act in the same cells, processing products from CAM interactions directly into the C4 pathway.

The researchers hope that the findings will help pave the way for drought-resistant crops in the future.

“In terms of engineering the CAM cycle in a C4 crop, such as maize, there is still a lot of work to be done before this becomes a reality,” Professor Edwards explained.

But what we’ve shown is that the two paths can be efficiently combined and products shared.

C4 and CAM are more compatible than we thought, which leads us to suspect that there are many more types of C4 + CAM, just waiting to be discovered.

The study comes as parts of the UK are experiencing the driest conditions since the 1976 drought.

Alarmingly, the Bureau of Meteorology has warned of ‘very little meaningful rain’ on the horizon – with conditions now so severe that a hosepipe ban affecting 1 million people in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will go into effect at 5 p.m. today.

The Met Office says it’s still too early to know how long this heat wave will last.

However, he reassures “there are indications of a return to more volatile conditions from around mid-August”.

HOW DOES PHOTOSYNTHISIS WORK?

Photosynthesis is a chemical process that plants use to convert light energy and carbon dioxide into glucose for the plant to grow, releasing oxygen in the process.

The leaves of green plants contain hundreds of pigment molecules (chlorophyll and others) that absorb light at specific wavelengths.

When light of the appropriate wavelength hits one of these molecules, the molecule enters an excited state – and energy from this excited state is transferred along a chain of pigment molecules until it reaches a specific type of chlorophyll at the center of the photoreaction.

Here, the energy is used to drive the charge separation necessary to continue photosynthesis.

The leftover electron “hole” in the chlorophyll molecule is used to “split” the water into oxygen.

The hydrogen ions formed during the water splitting process are eventually used to convert carbon dioxide into glucose energy, which the plant used to grow.

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