Summer BBQs often involve a spilled beer or two, but did you know that might be helping your drought-impacted plants? Read on!
Climate change and food production
Climate change is having a growing impact on food production worldwide. [Sorry, I couldn’t resist.] Not all of our groceries grow well in these rising temperatures. And drought is reducing crop yields all over the place. Scientists estimate that corn and wheat crops will be seriously affected by 2030, so a lot of research is being done to see if bigger root systems or other modifications can help plants grow with less water and in higher temperatures.
Plants respond to heat
When plants are hot and dry, they protect themselves by closing pores found on the underside of leaves. These stomata control the rate of gas exchanges used by plants in photosynthesis. This respiration can be slowed by as much as 50% during periods of extreme heat. Unless your plants are drunk.
Pints and plants
Recent research has found that many plants can thrive during drought if they are given ethanol. Ethanol is alcohol. It ends up that plants produce alcohol when they don’t have enough water. This fact led some researchers at the RIKEN Centre for Sustainable Resources Science to wonder if the same processes could be used to protect plants.
Alcohol abundant and cheap to make. Did you know that U.S. bars mark up their alcohol by an average of 400-500%? But back to the plants.
Researchers compared wheat and rice plants that had been treated with alcohol to those without. The plants were deprived of water for a couple of weeks in summer. Only 5% of the untreated plants recovered, while 75% of the alcohol-treated plants were able to resume growing once watered. Those are some significant numbers!
The scientists radio-tagged the alcohol so that they could see where it went within the plants. Plants that were given alcohol started behaving like they were in a drought even before the water was cut off. This helped them to be better prepared than their teetotaling brethren. Not only did they make better use of the water they had, but they also used the alcohol to create sugars to provide themselves with energy and perform more photosynthesis, even though their stomata were closed.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should go around giving your pumpkin plants shots of tequila. That would be a bad idea. What it does mean is that an occasional spilled beer might not be such a bad thing and we should all be on the lookout for more specific instructions as the research continues.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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