Pollution protection for plants?
CROP plants are being modified to produce higher vitamin contents in an effort to overcome the damaging effects of fast rising ozone smog created by industrial pollution, say US researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
According to UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, rocketing levels of ozone are set to hit crops like wheat, beans and oilseed rape hard. By 2100 ozone smog levels will nearly triple and blanket the entire northern hemisphere.
The increase is mainly due to Asias increasing ozone-causing emissions from cars and trucks, coal power plants, steel mills, cement plants and chemical industries.
Ozone is a toxic gas with powerful oxidizing properties causing wilt or leaf mottling. Even apparently undamaged plants age prematurely and leaves have reduced photosynthetic capacity.
Researchers in California have also found ozone inhibits the movement of sugar within plants leading to reduced crop growth. Plants exposed to ozone are more susceptible to disease, pests and environmental stresses.
Ozone smog already knocks yields back 12-15% according to the US Environmental Protection, costing US farmers $3-5bn annually.
Like people, plants possess a range of antioxidants to help fight off disease and stress. Those antioxidants include vitamins C and E and various enzymes. Plants with increased levels of antioxidants better tolerate exposure to ozone, reports Barbara Zilinskas, research scientist at Rutgers. By genetically engineering plants to produce higher levels of antioxidants, ozone tolerance has improved.
Transformed plants are now being tested in greenhouses containing various ozone levels. *