Column: Has a UC Riverside researcher created the Holy Grail of drought-tolerant lawns?
When a UC Riverside researcher recently announced plans to release a new grass that’s both drought and frost-tolerant, he’ll have a new product to sell.
“We’ve been studying this for four years,” said David Brown, a professor of plant science and a corresponding author of a paper describing his research.
The research team focused on developing a grass that can grow and survive in extremely dry conditions. But the grass in question has traits and characteristics similar to those of rice and wheat.
“We decided to use the rice, wheat and pea family of plants because we found that they have characteristics that would make them suitable for our research,” Brown said.
And then there’s rice as its name suggests.
Although it’s a staple of Asian diets, it’s also grown worldwide, from Morocco to the Amazon. And it’s an excellent source of plant-based protein.
Most rice is grown in dry tropical and subtropical climates where it grows readily. In these conditions, the grain stores moisture to protect the grain, making it easier to harvest, Brown said.
But rice doesn’t survive a lot of heat and drought, Brown said.
To make rice tolerant of both types of stress, Brown said, scientists must identify the genes that make the plants tolerant to heat and drought.
“It’s the job of a gene to be able to survive in that environment,” said Brown.
In his paper last month, Brown said his team identified genes that are associated with tolerance to heat and drought. But these genes are only part of the story.
Using a new method for analyzing hundreds of plant genomes, the scientists studied about 3,500 plant genomes of the pea family and rice. Based on this study, the researchers identified genes that may play a role in rice and pea plants’ ability to tolerate heat and drought.
Although Brown said his team has not tested the newly discovered genes of rice and pea in soil environments, he said their results indicate they’ll likely have the right traits to make them useful in crop production.
He said his team plans to continue expanding and testing their genetic methods to find new genes that can be used in crop improvement