Crops that are about adapting to weather, not climate

From the University of Edinburgh  a suggestion that the food security issue raised by AGW alarmists might not be worrisome at all. Of course the next complaint will be that we shouldn’t use modified crops to our advantage and that some of that horrid frankenfood will escape and ravage the countryside.

Scientists forecast crops that adapt to changing weather

Crops that can cope with sudden fluctuations in the weather could be developed, thanks to fresh discoveries about the survival mechanisms of plants

Crops that can cope with sudden fluctuations in the weather could be developed, thanks to fresh discoveries about the survival mechanisms of plants.

Scientists studying how tiny algae renew old or damaged cell proteins say their findings could be useful in developing crops suited to climates in which weather changes quickly.

Researchers found that the speed at which protein renewal takes place dictates how quickly they can adapt to environmental changes, such as a sudden frost or drought.

The team found that renewal rates vary between proteins according to their role and their location within cells. Proteins that carry out photosynthesis – the process that converts sunlight into energy – renew quickly because they are at risk of light damage. Conversely, proteins that protect DNA in plant cells are at little risk of damage, and renew slowly.

The findings, by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, could help breed crops incorporating proteins that respond quickly to changing conditions. Conversely, it could also assist development of high-yield crops in stable environments, where little adaptation to conditions is required.

Scientists made their discovery by developing a method to detect how quickly algae take up nitrogen – which is used to produce proteins – from their food. The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

Dr Sarah Martin of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Systems Biology, who led the study, said: “Until now, we knew that plants replaced their old and damaged proteins, but we had no idea how long this process took for individual proteins, or how this varied between different parts of the plant. Our findings will be useful in understanding more about how plants are programmed for survival.”

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22 Responses to Crops that are about adapting to weather, not climate

  1. Higher levels of atmospheric CO2 make plants more resistant to weather: more resistant to frost and heat, more resistant to drought. Also more resistant to pollution and salinity. And more resistant to poor soil and mineral depletion.

    Once CO2 levels get high enough such that plants are no longer suffocating, so stress from lack of CO2 is relieved, then it is possible to develop plants that have much greater tolerances to other variables, because CO2 availability is no longer the limiting factor.

  2. grayman says:

    Plants and animals will adapt to climate and weather changes with no problems. I do not need a study to tell me that. My 49 years on this earth have taught me that. My living in different climate and parts of this world have also taught me that humans will too.

  3. mizimi says:

    Many years ago, (more than I care to remember) experiments were made on the viability of seeds from ‘pure’ strains of plants which had been selectively bred from native stock over many generations and were thus considered far removed from their parents.
    When grown in normal conditions, the seed produced the same mix of small, medium and large adult plants – roughly 30% of each .
    In adverse conditions the smaller, faster growing plant produced seed more quickly.
    In better conditions the plant took its time and grew to normal size and seeded within the normal time frame.
    Given an abundance of nutients/water etc, the plants grew larger and seeded later.
    In other words, each plant produced a range of seed roughly adapted to whatever conditions might prevail during germination and growth. A strategy for survival, if you will. This work led to the ‘breeding’ of smaller, drought resistant offspring which produced abundant seed.
    So this isn’t new – we’ve been doing it to food crops for a long long time already.

  4. Hoser says:

    There are legitimate scientific, econonic, and legal concerns about GM crops.

    Pollens do escape and contaminate traditional crops. Farmers who don’t want to produce GM crops can be accused of “stealing” the GM seed simply because their seeds contain proprietary DNA sequences as a result of pollen carried by vectors from GM fields.

    Another issue has to do with our abilty to recover from a pause or collapse in services. Consider what might happen if farmers depend on GM seeds that are viable only when provided by the corporate supplier. If the supplier fails, or distribution of seed fails, then there is no backup mechanism for farmers to reboot agriculture. Such a systematic weakness could lead to a deeper collapse of civilization with many more unnecessary deaths. We might consider this concern low probability, but it would be very serious if it happened.

    A more important issue, and highly probable, has to do with crop blights and the methods used to overcome these problems. In the past, farmers have kept seeds for replanting. That led to hundreds or thousands local varieties of crops grown around the world. This genetic diversity provided a simple and reliable method of replacing strains vulnerable to crop diseases. Now the availability of commercial seed has reduced the genetic diversity of crops. GM seed could reduce that diversity further. When a crop disease threatens a large sector of the world’s food supply, there will be no easy mechanism to replace disease-prone strains with resistant strains.

    Perhaps crossing of GM plants with traditional crops may be a way to improve genetic diversity while providing important new traits. Whether the modifications are genetically stable or not remains to be seen. Nature tends to eliminate functions that decrease an organism’s selective advantage. Monoculture GM crops are a risky bet for civilization.

  5. Hector M. says:

    Crops adapt, but (most importantly) farmers adapt. There are crops (even varieties of the same crops) for quite different climates. Each variety of every crop normally works best in a certain range of temperatures and rainfall along its vegetative cycle. If either temps or rain changes, some other variety, or some other crop, becomes more suitable for a given location. Many assessments of negative impact disregard this, and treat crops as if they were wild vegetation. The very concept of “potential impact” (defined by the IPCC as impact expected “in the absence of adaptation”) is not applicable to agriculture, because agriculture is itself an adaptive behavior of people in a given environment, and therefore agriculture endogenously responds to changes in weather and to gradual changes in climate. Of course, there are major “adaptations” that are not endogenous, such as building new dams and large irrigation systems, which depend usually on major public (or sometimes private) investment decisions, but these “exogenous” adaptations do not include changing the planting date or using a different kind of seed.

    I have discussed the matter more extensively, as well as other related issues such as CO2 fertilization and the displacement of agro-ecological zones, in the recent book I authored with my son:
    Climate change, agriculture and food security in Latin America (Multi-Science Publishing), available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

    The book discusses only the expected agricultural and food impacts of IPCC projected climate change, based on existing studies such as those undertaken by FAO, IIASA and several integrated-assessment researchers; in other words, the book does not question the IPCC climate projections (it doesn’t endorses them either): it just starts from there to explore their probable implications for agriculture and food. And the results are far from catastrophic, even in the worst-case IPCC scenarios.

  6. treegyn1 says:

    Hoser says:
    December 13, 2011 at 7:57 am
    “There are legitimate scientific, econonic, and legal concerns about GM crops.”

    Ummm, no. There are only wild, unsubstantiated “claims” that do not stand up in the light of day.

    “Farmers who don’t want to produce GM crops can be accused of “stealing” the GM seed simply because their seeds contain proprietary DNA sequences as a result of pollen carried by vectors from GM fields”

    Again, this is not true. If you believe Percy Schmeiser, I have a bridge for sale. Cheap. The courts ruled multiple times against him. Companies such as Monsanto do not waste their time on “incidental” transfer – the cases they have vigorously pursued involved true theft of patented seeds.

    The use of GM crops around the world over the past 16 years now has resulted in significant reductions (now measured in the HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of pounds) of pesticides, fewer trips through the field (if you are a farmer, you know this isn’t trivial), reduced soil erosion, lower fuel costs, lower costs of production, and higher yields.

    WUWT is a blog with a well-deserved reputation for holding to strong science. Let’s not cloud the GM issue with Greenpeace inspired unsubstantiated claims.

  7. DEEBEE says:

    Oh No more franken crops. /sarc

  8. Dave Springer says:

    Umm…. wouldn’t crops that can adapt to sudden changes in weather be valuable in any case? I seem to recall hearing somewhere that farmers have been getting blessed or cursed by the weather since the beginning of agriculture many thousands of years ago.

  9. SayNoToFearmongers says:

    Yes, I firmly believe that for true food security, growing crops that can adapt to sudden changes in weather are invaluable. Indeed I recommend growing species that can cope with 1000 years’ worth of climate climate change (at 1990’s rate, anyhow) twice every 24 hours. That’s a tough ask for any geneticist, right?

    Let’s see, 0.2°C per decade, x 100 decades = 20°C

    Not much challenge to wheat, maize, barley and rice for the next few centuries then. We can keep on growing potatoes too.

    The biggest threat to food security comes from the clueless urbanites who believe any drivel that Greenpeace/FoE hand do them for cutting and pasting where other equally clueless victims may stumble and repeat. When farmers kept on planting their own material they frequently poisoned their communities with seedborne diseases and mycotoxins. Their crops underperformed, they failed, people starved or ate toxic, barely edible filth and died young. They didn’t know that the ergots they replanted would kill their children and give them hallucinations followed by agonising deaths through gangrene. These farmers didn’t grow these crops because of any innate folk wisdom, they knew no better, had no tools to make better decisions.

    We know better now, and the clock isn’t going back.

  10. Gail Combs says:

    Hoser says:
    December 13, 2011 at 7:57 am

    There are legitimate scientific, econonic, and legal concerns about GM crops…..

    Another issue has to do with our abilty to recover from a pause or collapse in services. Consider what might happen if farmers depend on GM seeds that are viable only when provided by the corporate supplier. If the supplier fails, or distribution of seed fails, then there is no backup mechanism for farmers to reboot agriculture. Such a systematic weakness could lead to a deeper collapse of civilization with many more unnecessary deaths. We might consider this concern low probability, but it would be very serious if it happened…..
    _____________________________________________

    Something of this nature has happened already.

    Monsanto GM-corn harvest fails massively in South Africa

    South African farmers suffered millions of dollars in lost income when 82,000 hectares of genetically-manipulated corn (maize) failed to produce hardly any seeds.The plants look lush and healthy from the outside. Monsanto has offered compensation.

    Monsanto blames the failure of the three varieties of corn planted on these farms, in three South African provinces,on alleged ‘underfertilisation processes in the laboratory”……
    http://digitaljournal.com/article/270101

  11. G. Karst says:

    The biggest problem, for farmers to-day, is the same as it was thousands of years ago!

    If there is to be a short cool growing season, then farmers will plant crops, that do well, in those conditions. Likewise for every other kind of growing season. Each crop has a multitude of cultivars, and there are many crops. The trouble is: You must know in advance – What to plant.

    So, accurate, reliable regional seasonal forecasts (a decent model), would be the game changer for the world’s food supply and security. Farmers have been promised such a system, from science, all their lives. They don’t call it a “farmer’s almanac” for nothing. When we can do this one simple thing, with-out failure, we can start talking climate. It also means we can finally relax, concerning what must always remain, our number one concern – water, food, shelter. GK

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @treegyn1

    Um, yes, there are valid reasons. No, I won’t go into them all here (it would take several dozen pages, minimum; and there are plenty of web sites where the topic is more appropriate and fully covered). And it is NOT hypothetical

    I’m a seed saver. I grow and preserve several varieties of seeds. Gene pollution is very real. Just try to preserve a special variety with special traits down wind of a GM operation.

    Recently no less an organization than Bayer had to deal with THEIR unapproved experimental rice variety polluting the founders stock of the most common rice varieties in the USA. That was the “rice shortage” of a couple of years back…

    Monsanto HAS sued folks, that’s a plural…

    There is now a “triple stack” rape weed that has managed to glue together the three most common herbicide resistance genes (from different ‘inventors’, so nobody made this thing). The recommended way to ‘control’ it is via burning, as it just laughs at the sprays. It has been found in Japan along roads. This, too, will increase. Nature loves a new trick, and those herbicides you depend on today are going to be history ‘right quick’ in evolutionary terms.

    But possibly worst of all, the genes from things you eat are shown to be picked up by gut bacteria. Bugs are not very picky about such things. Not a big deal if the gene is for making Vit-A, a bigger deal if it’s a toxin that makes you sick. Well, one of the genes left laying about in making GMOs is a virus insertion gene. There is also a “lock this gene ON” bit. Another is a ‘marker gene’. They chose to use antibiotic resistance for the marker gene. Yeah, that’s gonna be a problem.. There is evidence for such gene migration from gut bacteria into cells of the gut…

    Finally, by no means the final issue, just the last one I’m going to waste time on, there is the issue of allergies and tolerance. I have a couple of food allergies. Turns out, a huge number of folks do. Mine is to corn. Yes, folks can be allergic to corn. Or wheat. Or just about anything. So I have to read packages and NOT eat the ones that say ‘corn’ on the label. What is going to happen when someone decides to put that corn protein in, oh, rice; to make it a more complete food? Yup, I’m toast. Now multiply that by millions of people. How about Jews and Muslims? What happens when a non-kosher animal gene is moved to a kosher plant? (There are experiments now to do some of this).

    It’s a neat trick, but we don’t need it. Conventional plant breeding gives similar production. It is aimed at lower inputs and higher profits, especially for those who can own and patent the genetics of the planet. It does come with some very high risks. That you do not see them does not make them be gone.

    Oh, one final point. We’ve recently learned that genes are not “one gene one function” as thought. They are more like a hologram. One gene may be read several different ways and make several different products. So we blast this chunk of DNA into the middle of a gene, disrupt a bunch of systems and it makes the one product we want and sometimes others we do not expect (or even notice). That’s part of why most targets die. There is a grow out phase to find the survivors… Now what is IN those survivors? Nobody knows. Yeah, it has the target gene product. But what was lost? What is now changed? What other unexpected things in there but not looked for, so not seen? Nobody knows. Best we can do is feed it to the world and see what happens. Me? I’d rather not be the guinea pig…

    (I’m not some raving green or food nut either. I’ve had upper division genetics at an Ag school and grew up in farm country. I’m generally pro-tech and pro-nuke and pro-chemicals. I’m also pretty sure that genetic engineering is going to make some truly great medicines and cure a lot of diseases. But shotgunning genes into plants then feeding them to the world is just asking for a biological Three Mile Island.)

    On the issue of the article: Plants adapt rather fast to weather changes. The farmer adapts even faster. I had a couple of years of decent tomatoes around 1997-2000, now I do more kale and beans. In my ‘stash’ I have some tepary beans that grow in hot deserts, and some dark seeded beans that sprout in cold damp soils. Each year as the season comes, I look at the best weather reports from Meteorologists (and NEVER would trust a “climate scientist” prediction) and then “go to the freezer” and pick my seeds based on what is needed.

    Some of my varieties I’ve developed myself. They match my peculiar micro-climate better. Every year I do what agronomy research stations around the world do. I ‘trial’ a couple of new things and see if they have something I need. When I find one, that can be the difference between ‘produce’ and ‘hungry’. One of my challenges is a modestly dry garden that can be cool at times. A new type that is “OK but not ideal” can, with modest selection, become well adapted to the location in about 4 years. I’ve got a kale that is large, robust, tastes good, and looks like it may be multi-year. Got a patch growing now. I started with a warm loving collard and a cold season Kale. The cross is tolerant to both… ( Green Glaze x Dinosaur Kale)

    So while it’s nice to know that they have identified what drives adaptation, and even a fun tech they have underdevelopment, we can make tolerant plants without it. In our own back yards.

  13. humanati says:

    [SNIP: Before a statement like this can be allowed it needs to be backed up with links or citations. Please. -REP]

  14. humanati says:

    This is a better link.
    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_geneticfood36.htm
    Watch ‘Scientists Under Attack’
    The attack on science is not limited to climate.
    Please Google Dr Arpad Pusztai who studied GMOs for the British government.

    Also Dr Andrew Wakefield who found bowel disease in autistic children injected with the MMR vaccine.
    Also Dr Stanislaw Burzynski who developed & patented a successful treatment for cancer.

    There is a pattern here.

  15. humanati says:


    Scientists Under Attack
    Does it ring bells for scientists here?

  16. sunspot says:

    nice posts humanati, many in here need a few lesson’s on GMO’s

  17. John Marshall says:

    Feeding non GM raw potatoes to rats will kill them. Potatoes contain a poison that is broken down by cooking. GM/nonGM makes no difference.

  18. Brian H says:

    E.M. Smith;
    “How about Jews and Muslims? What happens when a non-kosher animal gene is moved to a kosher plant? (There are experiments now to do some of this). ”
    I dunno. Yhwh or Allah will strike ‘em dead? Or consign them to eternal perdition? Or nothing whatsoever?
    Considering that “kosher” and “hallal” etc. are grotesque anachronisms, I suspect it’s #3.

  19. LKMiller says:

    sunspot says:
    December 14, 2011 at 2:08 am

    “… many in here need a few lesson’s on GMO’s”

    This is most assuredly true, starting with humanati.

    As John Marshall has already pointed out, the Putztai (correct spelling) “study” has been thoroughly debunked.

    When you bring in Mae Wan Ho, I’ll know for sure you’d rather consult tea leaves than science.

    Heck, why not go for the hat trick, and bring in the deep “thinking” of Vandana Shiva?

    The use of GM crops around the globe has increased every year for the past 16. Yup, the stuff is so bad, farmers really hate it. /sarc

  20. ozspeaksup says:

    and all the lab plants rely on heavy use of chem to grow and kill bugs.
    healthy soils breed healthy plants, agri chem fertiliser knocks the hell outta soil biota.
    we dont need superweeds and hybrid gmo escapees.
    I buy no usa imports and nothing using cottonseed oil /soy .
    my diets probably better, but finding safe foods a hassle.
    the bigaggros demand to NOT label so as not to allow customers the right to Refuse their product is frankly, Criminal!
    golden rice. better to grow a carrot, how many decades and millions for Zero use?
    while billions have still got Vit A issues.
    the world does NOT need monsanto or the rest of em.

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