Ethanol helps the plants to survive drought: New Research
According to a recent study, ethanol can help plants thrive during droughts. Adding ethanol to soil helps plants to grow after two weeks without water, including rice and wheat. Because ethanol is safe, inexpensive, and widely available, this discovery provides a realistic option to improve food production throughout the world when water is short, without the need for costly, time-consuming, and often contentious genetically engineered plant development.
The RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan conducted the experiment. Researchers led by Motoaki Seki demonstrate that adding ethanol to soil helps plants such as rice and wheat to flourish after two weeks without water. The journal Plant and Cell Physiology published the study on August 25.
Why there is a need for a solution to prevent plants from water scarcity?
The near future entails a continually expanding population and increased water scarcity caused by climate change, both of which will surely lead to food shortages unless action is taken. One alternative is to figure out how to keep plants alive when they don’t have access to water. Plants can be genetically modified such that their stomata (the holes in their leaves) remain closed, preventing water from leaving the plants. However, the production of genetically modified plants is costly and time intensive, and nations in the greatest need may not have equitable access to these modified crops.
Approach for the plants to survive drought
Seki and his team have been working on a different approach. They explained that because plants produce ethanol when they lack water content, providing it to plants will protect them against future droughts. They planted plants for around two weeks with plenty of water to test this idea. Then, they prepared the soil with ethanol for three days before depriving it of water for two weeks. After rewatering, almost 75% of ethanol-treated wheat and rice plants survived, whereas less than 5% of untreated plants survived.
Ethanol helps the plants to hold more water
By concluding that ethanol can preserve these two vital crops from drought. They now planned to demonstrate it on the model plant Arabidopsis. They began by inspecting the leaves. Then discovered that when ethanol-treated Arabidopsis plants were deprived of water, their stomata closed and their leaf temperature rose. These plants maintained more water in their leaves after 11 and 12 days of water deprivation than the untreated ones.
Examining the plants before and after water deprivation
The researchers then examined gene expression before and after water deprivation and radio-tagged the ethanol prior to pretreatment. This allowed them to see which mechanisms were triggered during the drought and what happened to the ethanol after it was absorbed by the plant roots. Even before the water deprivation, the ethanol-treated plants began to produce genes that are usually expressed during dehydration. Furthermore, while the water content of untreated leaves was decreasing, the ethanol-treated plants were producing sugars from the ethanol and performing photosynthesis.
Researchers’ Standpoint on this experiment
According to Seki, treating the soil with ethanol reduces dryness in several aspects. First, drought-related genes are produced even before there is a lack of water, providing plants with an advantage in preparation. The stomata then shut, allowing the leaves to retain more water. Simultaneously, some of the ethanol is utilised to produce a variety of sugars, which give much-needed energy that is otherwise impossible to obtain with closed stomata.
Seki states that exogenous ethanol treatment of popular crops such as wheat and rice increases crop productivity during drought. That is presumably due to alterations in the metabolomic and transcriptomic profiles that regulate the drought-stress response, as in Arabidopsis. This provides us with a cheap and simple technique to boost agricultural productivity even when water is scarce, without requiring genetic modification.
Resources provided by RIKEN. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Khurram Bashir Ethanol-Mediated Novel Survival Strategy against Drought Stress in Plants. Plant and Cell Physiology, 2022; DOI: 10.1093/pcp/pcac114
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