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Scientists study the agave plant to advance farming techniques

According to a July 13 article on the Scientific American website, plants, such as the agave and others that thrive in semiarid conditions, may hold the key to an advancement in agriculture called drought-resistant farming. To be more specific, the agave, prickly pear, pineapple and vanilla orchids utilize a process called crassulacean acid metabolism, or CAM, which is a different type of photosynthesis that allows these types of plants to use less water.

With the ongoing and worsening water shortage happening in states like California, drought-resistant farming is welcomed sooner rather than later. The Department of Energy has funded a five-year research project, to the tune of $14.3 million in grant money, with the primary objective being how to apply the CAM pathways to bioenergy crops.

Xiaohan Yang and other leading researchers are seeking to utilize CAM photosynthesis in other types of plants so that they require less water in the growth process. It is not an easy task, however, scientists are close to a major breakthrough.

“We have a very good idea of what genes are important for CAM species,” Yang said. “Right now, we are working on how those genes come together, and then we test their efficiency.”

Long known as the plant that produced Tequila, and more recently as the plant that produces a sweetener which is widely considered to be more healthy than processed white sugar, the agave plant may just be saving the best for last. That is helping to save the environment.


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