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With genes from carnivorous plants, researchers aim to grow hardier crop plants

Date: 26.4.2021 

They won't devour insects with leafy jaws, but with help from carnivorous plant genes, tomatoes, tobacco and other crops could one day better defend themselves from pathogenic fungi and insects.

Kredit: Petr Dlouhý / Wikimedia Commons.An international team of researchers has received a grant from the Human Frontier Science Program to investigate how carnivory-related genes, such as those involved in digestion, could help crops not only avoid pests, but also thrive in low-nutrient environments. Ultimately, the team's goal is to reduce reliance on pesticides and fertilizers.

"The study of plants can provide novel solutions for human welfare through improved crops," said Tanya Renner, assistant professor of entomology at Penn State. "A key challenge is to efficiently select traits and underlying genes that exert similar functions when transferred from a donor plant to a recipient.

We believe that some of the genes involved in carnivory – such as those involved in digesting insects and in maintaining leaf surfaces that prevent insects from escaping – could help to improve pest resistance of crops or create varieties that can grow on increasingly widespread eroded and infertile soils."

"One of our goals with this project is to identify and characterize the convergent genes involved in carnivory for three types of carnivorous plants: sundews, butterworts and pitcher plants," said Renner. "It will be the first-ever study of the key genetic underpinnings of plant carnivory on a broad scale."





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