A recent study of plants that thrive in one of the world’s harshest deserts could lead to new insights on avoiding famine as the effects of climate change worsen. Chile’s Atacama Desert is noted for being one of the driest areas on the planet. According to National Geographic, the region receives only around half an inch of rain per year because of the dusty red rocks that stretch for kilometers. Despite the lack of water, dozens of plant species thrive in the area.
According to the study, the desert is described as an “unparalleled natural laboratory for studying plant adaptability to harsh environmental circumstances,” according to the survey. Global desertification is one of the repercussions of climate change, and according to the report, desertification will affect 65 percent of our entire land surface by 2035, up from 48 percent in 2016.
Drought, increased radiation, salt, and severe temperatures will make growing crops more difficult in several parts of the world. According to Carbon Brief, a U.K.-based website reporting the latest findings in climate science, a combination of climate change, land mismanagement, and unsustainable freshwater usage is already creating water scarcity and soil mineral depletion in numerous parts of the world. Researchers determined what features made these plants so tenacious in the harsh desert environment by researching their genetic makeup. So, what genes did these plants have in common?
In 32 of the species, the most prevalent genes were related to stress response, metabolism, and energy production. Researchers discovered 265 genes that gave desert plants an evolutionary edge, describing this resource as a “genetic goldmine” for engineering agricultural resilience in the face of climate change. What method did the researchers use?
It turned out to be a 10-year project involving 27 scholars from various institutes and universities worldwide. The researchers looked at 22 different sites at different elevations of 328 feet. They discovered that the soil lacked numerous vital nutrients for plant growth when analyzing it. All of the samples in the research had “deficient” nitrogen levels.
The researchers subsequently discovered a swarm of growth-promoting bacteria snuggled near the plant roots. The bacteria may take nitrogen from the air and use it to deliver essential minerals to the plants and protect them from diseases, boost drought resistance, and increase plant hormone synthesis. The study’s wealth of information has far-reaching consequences for food security in the future.
“Because some of these incredibly hardy plants are closely related to basic crops like grains, legumes, and the potato family, they can contribute vital genetic material for crop development,” according to the study. The United Nations summit on Climate Change (COP26) will address land use and desertification. The study was presented on Monday as world leaders gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26, a United Nations climate summit to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
According to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, one of the conference’s goals was to “implement and, if required, modify agricultural policies and programs to incentivize sustainable agriculture, enhance food security, and benefit the environment.”