The ability to grow crops in acidic soil environments has, up until recently, been feasible with only a few species of maize. However, current scientific research into the genes responsible for plant tolerance may enable the cultivation of stress-free crops in soils once considered impossible, opening up exciting new frontiers in the field of sustainable farming.
Researchers from Cornell University in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research have been conducting fascinating studies into the high aluminum tolerance of Ethiopian Maize and Brazilian Sorghum. Why aluminum? Well to start, the aluminum present in the clay of soils with a highly acidic pH dissolve, which is toxic when absorbed by nearby root systems. Amazingly, researchers were able to break down the genome of the aluminum tolerant species of maize and identify key gene copies known as MATE1 that were linked to the unusual trait. Moreover, by isolating and identifying the genes that enable crops to thrive in lands regarded as non-arable, stress-free crops can be grown in all types of climates and soil compositions.
In regards to stress-free crops, USDA Director of the Agricultural Research Service Leon Kochian remarked that, “Aluminum tolerance in Maize is associated with higher MATE1 gene copy number. This could be a key factor for other traits of agricultural importance.”
The prospect of farmers being able to grow stress-free crops in areas that were once written off as unusable gives pause for optimism in nations that have been plagued with chronic food shortages and low soil efficacy. By unlocking the amazing potential of stress-free crops, remote areas that were once dependent on foreign aid can now reach the goal of sustainable development through aluminum tolerant maize.
Source: Science Daily