Scientific advancements continue to identify problems and offer solutions that could increase crop yields as climate change alters global agricultural environments. Recent insights about plant metabolism, heat-resistant plant genetics, and the role of insect pollinators can help farmers improve or maintain yields in the future.

Understanding Plant Metabolism

A study managed by the University of Melbourne in Australia has identified superoxide as the botanical molecule that regulates plant metabolic activity. At sundown, superoxide tells plants that the evening has come. The information tells the plant to conserve energy through the night and prepare for a new day of plant sugar production. These findings could lead to growing methods that work in conjunction with the daily rhythms of plants and thereby increase yields.

Improving Plant Heat Resistance

CO2 pollution has altered the composition of the atmosphere and triggered higher global temperatures. Scientists in Illinois hope to adapt to the higher temperatures that stress plants by detecting it early. They are working with satellite imaging tools to measure chlorophyll fluorescence on large fields. Fluorescence changes provide an early warning for plant stress. Advance notice of an emerging problem could allow farmers to take protective actions.

Genetic scientists also search for heat-resistant genes in wild plants. Such genes can build enzymes necessary for plant growth at higher temperatures. The aim of this research is to genetically engineer domestic crop species with wild heat-resistant genes so that they can remain productive in hotter conditions.

Promoting Insect Pollinator Diversity

Plants exist within an ecosystem, and their success does not depend entirely on their genes. Pollinator insects are necessary to ensure production in 75 percent of major crops. Studies of wild pollinator populations in six continents indicate that plants thrive when multiple pollinator species service them instead of a single species. Wild areas adjacent to fields provide habitat for multiple wild insects. Crops with access to many insect pollinators have higher and more consistent yields from year to year.

The European Honeybee, Apis mellifera, is responsible for an estimated 80% of insect pollination of food crops in Australia. Credit: CSIRO

What experiences have you had with genetically engineered crops? Have these scientific advances increased your yields?

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