NEW UNDERSTANDING of the way some plants can adapt to extreme temperatures could be used to improve productivity of staple crops in the UK and around the world, scientists claim.

Research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) found that the weed Arabidopsis has a unique “safety valve” that lets it alter the structure of its photosynthetic membranes to dissipate excess radiation.

It is thought that the process is aided by the carotenoid molecule, zeaxanthin, and plants with a higher level of this will be better protected.

“We hope that this knowledge could be used to improve photosynthesis rates, and therefore productivity, in staple crops [such as rice and common bean],” said Peter Horton, who led the research at the University of Sheffield.

But he acknowledges more work is still required, as such processes may be different in the field compared to the laboratory.