Purdue researchers helping plants survive drought conditions

Jul 22, 2012

Dry, hot weather has taken hold in Indiana, with reports putting the state nearly eight inches below normal precipitation levels for this time of year.

Associate Professor of Horticulture Mike Mickelbart is looking for genes that affect water-use efficiency in corn plants. This involves measuring how much water is lost by plants in the field, which he says can be difficult to gauge.

"It's very dependent on the environment. So it depends on what the temperature is, what the light level is, the relative humidity of the air. It's a very dynamic measurement.”

He says the efficiency trait is tougher to isolate than other attributes such as disease resistance.

"These are what we call multi-gene traits. So it's not just one gene that we're going to find that is going to give you increased water-use efficiency; It's likely to be a 'suite' of genes, which makes it much harder to engineer plants."

Mickelbart has been studying this trait for several years, but he can’t say exactly how soon more efficient crops will be seen in the United States.

Experts report 55% of Indiana is classified as being in an “extreme” drought.