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Ancient plants could help improve modern crops

Ancient plants could help improve modern crops

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer

Crops could soon produce higher yields with the application of less synthetic fertilizers, thanks to the help of genes from ancient plants called hornworts.    

Researchers sequenced the genomes of three hornworts and discovered genetic material that could be responsible for the plants’ methods of obtaining carbon and nitrogen, a March release from New York’s Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) said. 

“We know life is basically built by carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus – those (nutrients) are key to increasing agricultural yields,” Fay-Wei Li, a BTI faculty member and a corresponding author of the paper, said in the release.

“If we can unlock hornworts' secrets, then we might be able to transfer those traits to agriculturally important plants.”

Researchers found 40 genes linked to the hornworts’ ability to obtain nitrogen, due to a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria, the release said. Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic bacteria.

If scientists can develop crops with this same relationship, farmers could use less nitrogen fertilizer, which would benefit operational profitability and the environment.

The study is published in the March edition of the journal Nature Plants

Eftychis Frangedakis photo



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