Jorge Marques da Silva, Principal Investigator from the Plant Functional Genomics Group, and his team published a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany. The researchers identified the traits conferring wheat resilience to water scarcity and hight temperatures and can now provide breeders a program to plant a more resistant wheat variety to climate change.

What was the starting point that led to the current research?

It was mostly a practical motivation: Ongoing climate change translates into an increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts, almost always together with high temperatures or even heat waves. Identifying the physiological traits conferring resilience of wheat plants to water and heat stresses is therefore of utmost importance to design efficient breeding programs. Although each of these stresses individually has already been abundantly studied, studies that consider the simultaneous occurrence of both stresses (a situation that in fact occurs in agricultural fields) are very scarce, and this work has significantly strengthened this knowledge.

What is the main finding reported in this paper?

We found that transpiration efficiency was essential to maintain the balance between water-saving strategies and biomass production in wheat under water deficit and high temperature. But tress tolerance also included changes in carbohydrate and antioxidant metabolism.

If you had to explain the main finding to a 5-year-old child, how would you do it?

I would stick to the big picture, I don’t think it’s possible to go into details: I would explain that we need to know more about the plants we feed on, so that they can withstand a lot of heat and lack of water.

Why is it important for the scientific community and for society at large?

To meet (among others) the United Nations’ sustainable development goal #2 – zero hunger – we must rapidly create agricultural varieties that are more resistant to climate stress. To do this, we need to know crops’ physiological response to stress and identify the traits that need to be improved. At the same time, we deepen fundamental knowledge about plant biology.

What are the next steps?

The knowledge we have gained about these genotypes is published and could be used by plant breeders. We want to continue to investigate the response to climatic stresses of agricultural species and to identify new traits of interest, particularly among landraces and indigenous cultivars’ germplasm. But for this, we need to continue to develop a technological infrastructure for high-throughput plant phenotyping.

Discover more about Jorge Marques da Silva’s research here.

Get to know the Plant Functional Genomics Group here.

Read the full paper here.

From lefto to right: Pedro Correia, Anabela Bernardes da Silva and Jorge Marques da Silva [photos provided by the researchers].