30 Jan 2016

Science: Autism and Seagrass

From This Way Up, 12:30 pm on 30 January 2016
Dr Chris Smith of The Naked Scientists

Dr Chris Smith of The Naked Scientists Photo: SUPPLIED

Seagrass offers clues to our future food

A team of scientists hopes their research on sea grasses could help us to breed the crops of the future and feed the world's ever-growing population.

Dr Chris Smith of The Naked Scientists says that such plants are among the largest and oldest living organisms on Earth with some being tens of thousands of years old. Clumps more than 10 kilometres across, containing plants that took root 30,000 to 100,000 years ago, have been identified in the Mediterranean.

They create the underwater equivalent of a lawn, spreading by using runner-like projections of their roots, called rhizomes, to rapidly colonise large areas. They can also use a specialised underwater pollination process they've evolved over the 300 million years since they left their land-living relatives behind and colonised almost every coastline around the globe.

Writing in the journal 'Nature', King Abdullah University of Science and Technology researcher Carlos Duarte and his colleagues showed how they successfully decoded the genome of eel grass (or zoster marina) to find out how it had evolved to live in saltwater, and also how its underwater reproduction system works.

The close relationship between seagrasses, cereals and rice plants means that these genetic survival strategies could be bred into food crops to make them more drought and salt tolerant in the future.

"This could alleviate the pressure on fresh water resources that are already stretched and will otherwise constrain our capacity to produce enough food to feed a rising population" - Carlos Duarte.

flowering tape seagrass

Flowering Tape seagrass Photo: Ria Tan / CC BY 2.0