Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Back from the Dead

Genetically modified chickpea plants

Genetically modified chickpea plants that express a pro-survival gene derived from Australian resurrection plants (Tripogon loliiformis) are more stress-tolerant. This image shows non-GM (left) and GM (right) chickpea plants that had been drought-stressed at flowering by applying half volumes of water for 30 days. This photo was captured after an additional 35 days without watering.

By Brett Williams & Sagadevan Mundree

Resurrection plants can survive for years in an air-dry state before growing at full capacity when the rain comes. How do they do it, and can this trait be transferred to improve the tolerance of crops to drought, heat, salinity and infection?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Plants require significant amounts of water. On a hot, sunny day some plants replace every water molecule in their body within an hour.

We make cars more fuel-efficient to reduce costs and emissions. Can we make plants more water efficient to save water and get more crop per drop?

Plants can contain as much as 90% water. In contrast, humans contain approximately 60% water. To put the water demands of plants into perspective, if a crop plant loses water to levels equivalent to humans then it will wilt and die.

How Do We Help Plants Tolerate Drought?

A small group of flowering plants can lose up to 90% of their water and remain in that state for months. These “resurrection plants” may hold the secret to improving drought tolerance in crops.

Like the phoenix, resurrection plants are able to dry to an air-dry “ash” state and, upon watering, are “rejuvenated” to start growing at full capacity within 24–72 hours.

Imagine if we could generate crops that can tolerate significant water loss during droughts and then start to grow again when the rains come.

Recently our group found that the cells of an Australian resurrection plant do not die upon drying. Upon watering, existing tissue recovered rather than new fresh tissue generating.

Further research has shown that the cells can survive from months to years when in the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.