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How plants breathe could create drought resistant plants

Posted on: July 25th, 2019

Though you’d never suspect it, plants do in fact breathe through microscopic pores in their leaves called “stomata” which takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen through a process known as photosynthesis.

As many of us learned during middle school science, plants undergo a process called photosynthesis in which plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air before combining it with the water they obtain from their roots.

Sunlight is then turned into energy enabling plants to create carbohydrates and oxygen which the plant needs to properly flourish – and breath.

Little has been understood about stomata, but a recent study from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, revealed a great deal of information about the steady flow of air necessary throughout a plant and how water plays a role.

While many interesting facts have emerged about the intricacies of stomata such as the complex and vast network of air spaces running throughout a plant, what they also discovered was a bit of a surprise.

Plants that have fewer stomata (the “lungs of the leaf”) actually require less water for optimal health.

While the study was not focused on this phenomenon, researchers believe this could help develop a species of drought-resistant plants for drought-prone areas, as well as aid in food security among crops due to the uncertainty of climate change.

“The fact that humans have already inadvertently influenced the way plants breathe by breeding wheat that uses less water suggests we could target these air channel networks to develop crops that can survive the more extreme droughts we expect to see with climate breakdown,” said Andrew Fleming, a member of the research team who conducted the study.

There is still much to understand about mutating the way in which plants breathe and the number of stomata necessary for optimal growth. But this research may become reality for many plants as the environment they exist in continues to change.

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