Genetic breakthrough in cereal crops could help improve yields worldwide

A team of Clemson University scientists has achieved a breakthrough in the genetics of senescence in cereal crops with the potential to dramatically impact the future of food security in the era of climate change. Rajan Sekhon, a plant geneticist and an assistant professor in the College of Science’s department of genetics and biochemistry mentioned.”Senescence means ‘death of a cell or an organ in the hands of the very organisms it is a part of,’ ” Sekhon said.”It happens pretty much everywhere, even in animals. We kill the cells we don’t need. When the weather changes in fall, we have those nice fall colors in trees. At the onset of fall, when the plants realize that they cannot sustain the leaves, they kill their leaves. It is all about the economy of energy.” As a result, the leaves die off after their show of color. The energy scavenged from the leaves is stored in the trunk or roots of the plant and used to quickly reproduce leaves next spring. This makes perfect sense for trees. But the story is quite different for some other edible plants, specifically cereal crops like maize, rice, and wheat.
“These crops are tended very carefully and supplied excess nutrients in the form of fertilizers by the farmers,” Sekhon said. “Instead of dying prematurely, the leaves can keep on making food via photosynthesis. Understanding the triggers for senescence in crops like maize means scientists can alter the plant in a way that can benefit a hungry world.”
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