Apart from being a key ingredient for tequila, scientists at Newcastle University in Britain and the Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee, believe the Agave may be a plant that holds a secret solution to drought climates.
In this month’s “Nature Plants,” researchers explain the natural reverse molecular clock of the cactus-like succulent plant may offer a way to engineer drought-resistant crops.
Agave has its own, unique body clock.
"If we can harness these genes and engineer new drought-resistant plants then the potential is huge in terms of developing crops and biofuels that are able to withstand the challenges we face from a changing climate."
Unlike average plants that take in carbon dioxide during the day through their stomata or “breathing”pores and use the sunlight for photosynthesis, Agave plants and others like it that sustain extreme heat have pores that open at night and remain closed during the day – all in order to preserve water from evaporating.
Photosynthesis requires sunlight, so it only makes sense that plants would keep their stomata open in the day, when it’s sunny, and close at night, when it’s dark.
But for a plant such as the Agave and others trying to survive in hot and dry conditions, leaving the stomata open during the day would result in rapid water loss and a fast death.
Scientists want to replicate this survival mechanism and apply it to crops that may be affected by a warmer climate in future decades.
"If we can harness these genes and engineer new drought-resistant plants, then the potential is huge in terms of developing crops and biofuels that are able to withstand the challenges we face from a changing climate,” according to teh study.
Agave plants are of the Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) family, and since identifying this family of plants in the 1950s, scientists have been working to harness their metabolic process in order to create new plants able to survive extreme drought.