Farmers and agricultural communities around the world are on the frontlines of climate change. They are among the first to feel the impacts of hotter temperatures as well as more frequent and intense droughts and precipitation. These challenges pose a massive threat to both farmer livelihoods and global food security.
As the planet continues to heat up, many arid regions that already have marginal conditions for agriculture will be increasingly under stress. As a result, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the King Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco are working on a promising new way to protect seeds from this stress during their crucial germination phase. Their simple and inexpensive process, which was recently described in a paper published in the journal Nature Food, also provides plants with extra nutrition at the same.
The research team has developed a two layer coating for seeds designed for tackling issues related to drought. Drawing inspiration from natural coatings that occur on some seeds like chia seeds, the first layer is designed to protect the seeds from drying out. It provides a gel-like coating that grips any moisture that comes along and surrounds the seed with it. The second (inner) layer of the coating contains preserved microorganisms called rhizobacteria, as well as some nutrients to help the seeds grow.
The materials for the coatings are biodegradable, readily-available, and often used in the food industry already. According to researchers, early tests using common beans have demonstrated encouraging results in Morocco, and more field tests of the seeds are currently underway.
As the climate continues to change, more innovations like this will be necessary for global food security.
Engineering seeds to resist drought
Photo, posted September 17, 2010, courtesy of Stacy via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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