The nearly $2 billion lettuce industries of California and Arizona are likely to get mighty wilted as temperatures in those hot states continue to rise. But science is here to save the day — with GMOs.
A research team with USDA and National Science Foundation funding has identified a lettuce gene and enzyme that make the plants stop germinating when it’s too hot — so now scientists hope to tweak those lettuces to grow even when they naturally wouldn’t. Currently growers have to cool soil and seeds with extra cool water, at great expense. The study, published in the journal The Planet Cell, was a collaboration between scientists at India’s Ranga Agricultural University, the University of California at Davis, and scientists from Arcadia Biosciences.
“Discovery of the genes will enable plant breeders to develop lettuce varieties that can better germinate and grow to maturity under high temperatures,” said the study’s lead author Kent Bradford, a professor of plant sciences and director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center.
“And because this mechanism that inhibits hot-weather germination in lettuce seeds appears to be quite common in many plant species, we suspect that other crops also could be modified to improve their germination,” he said. “This could be increasingly important as global temperatures are predicted to rise.”
No word from the researchers, though, on how good that hot lettuce would actually taste. Let’s just flip nature’s off switch — what could go wrong?
Get Grist in your inbox