The water we drinkNew gene could help plants use less water

Published 4 February 2011

A mutant plant gene discovery by researchers at Purdue could lead to major breakthroughs in farming that would allow plants to be grown with less water without compromising growth; the mutant gene GTL1 reduces water loss without sacrificing carbon dioxide intake which usually affects growth negatively; tests show that the mutation reduced water loss by 20 percent; researchers are in the process of determining how this gene can be applied to crops

Lower water need can assure continuing yields // Source:

Researchers at Purdue University have discovered a gene that allows plants to endure droughts without losing biomass. This discovery could help reduce the amount of water needed to grow plants.

Plants have a natural ability to conserve water during droughts by controlling stomata, pores that take in carbon dioxide and release water. During droughts, plants close these stomata to save water, however doing so also reduces carbon dioxide intake thereby limiting its growth.

Researchers have found a genetic mutation in the Arabidopsis thaliana plant that reduces the number of stomata and results in a beneficial equilibrium between limited carbon dioxide intake and water conservation without affecting growth.

The plant can only fix so much carbon dioxide. The fewer stomata still allow for the same amount of carbon dioxide intake as a wild type while conserving water,” said Mike Mickelbart, an assistant professor of horticulture at Purdue University and one of the lead researchers.

Tests showed that the genetic mutation allowed the plant to reduce water loss by 20 percent while maintaining existing carbon dioxide intake. When compared to a similar plant that was not subjected to water loss, the plants had the same weight.

These findings are significant because this could lead to a natural way to improve crops’ drought tolerance without decreasing yield and therefore reduce water use in farming.

Researchers are still in the preliminary phases of understanding this genetic mutation. Their next step will be to examine the role of this gene in a crop plant.

Mike Hasegawa, a professor of horticulture at Purdue University, Chal Yul Yoo, a horticulture graduate student, and Mike Mickelbart made the discovery of the mutant form of the gene GTL1.