Agriculture in a changing world

poster Agriculture in a changing worldWednesday February 22nd

19:45 live music door 2MusE
20:15 speakers
Café Loburg

The Science Café session on “Agriculture in a changing world” featured dr. Siobhan Brady (University of California, Davis, USA) and prof. dr. Harro Bouwmeester (University of Amsterdam) as speakers. They showed us how looking at plant roots helps finding crops able to deal with the issues of climate change.

Throughout the world we can see extremes in water availability. Dr. Siobhan Brady opens her talk with showing us examples of floods and droughts in the USA, France and the UK. Next to that, we all know that the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are rising. By itself, elevated levels of CO2 improve plant growth. Unfortunately, the combination of CO2 with drought makes plant growth a lot worse, which isn’t good news for agriculture. So how do plants adapt to dry environments? They use their roots to sense the environment, and adapt the roots to the needs of that environment. How well a plant can do that depends on the type of plant and its origin. The team of dr. Brady has investigated the roots of wild, drought resistant plants and compared them to their relatives used in agriculture. They found that for instance a wild tomato plant taken from a desert had developed an insulation layer in its roots, of material similar to cork. This layer prevented loss of water from the roots of the plants. Dr. Brady thinks that such adaptations are an interesting way forward to use in breeding programs for agricultural crops.

Prof. dr. Harro Bouwmeester and his team have studied the role of chemistry around the root systems on the growth of the plant and its response to the environment. Plants use chemicals such as acids to improve the uptake of nutrients from the soil. They also use hormones to stimulate special types of fungi which provide nitrogen to the plant. These hormones unfortunately also stimulate parasitic plants. Parasitic plants cause large yield losses to agricultural crops like sorghum, millet and maize, and are an increasing problem in Africa. The parasitic plants are abusing the hormone communication of the crops, especially in nutrient poor soils. Breeding crops in which these hormones aren’t produced at all solves the problem with the parasites, but unfortunately also affects plant growth. The team of prof. dr. Bouwmeester found that plants who are more resistant to parasites often have a slightly different hormone pattern from their relatives. This trait could be used in the development of new lines of parasite resistant crops.

After the intermission, a large crowd was ready to fire their questions at the two speakers. Simon Vink, our moderator of the evening, facilitated a lively Q&A session. During the evening we also enjoyed the musical contributions of 2MusE, who played a catchy mix of funk, jazz and latin. Appreciating the nice session of Science Café Wageningen, we would like to give you a warm invitation to our next session on “Artificial Intelligence: Rise of the thinking machines”. This session will be held Thursday 30th of March at café Loburg. The session will start at 20.15, with live music by the band Catch-22 from 19.45. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Exploring and discussing science with professionals, funky music and a drink.