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University of Southampton to Develop Crops that Use Less Water


Miscanthus PlantAs humanity pushes further into the future, and considering the implications of an already-warming climate, considerations are being taken into the kind of crops that we’ll need. Genetic engineering has led to crops that are bug- and disease-resistant, which has increased food production in some areas.

Southampton University, in the UK, has just been funded with just over $14.5 million to research genetic modifications developing crops that are less reliant on water.

Using the latest in genetic sequencing technology, the research group at Southampton plans to “characterize the vast amount of DNA variation in these under-utilised crops and harness this to produce better crops. Even five years ago this project wouldn’t have been possible as DNA sequencing was relatively expensive,” says Professor Gail Taylor.

Southampton will be mainly focusing on biomass crops, which are another key to a carbon-neutral future, but use exceptional amounts of water. Climate change scientists see more variations in rainfall as global warming progresses, and so drought-resistant crops will leave more water, and arable land, for food crops.

Dr Donal Murphy-Bokern will coordinate the consortium’s communications and interactions with policy-makers. He comments: “The increasing use of biomass for energy presents Europe with two great challenges: delivering the biomass without competing with food production or reducing already stretched water resources. This research addresses both directly.”

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