Could circadian timing help improve crop protection?


Plants can tell the time, but how might that knowledge help improve crop protection and food security?

According to Fiona Belbin a postdoctoral research associate at Dartmouth College, who studies the relationship between the iron regulatory and circadian networks in plants, the answer is that plant life underlies all of the agriculture that produces our food and plants have internal clocks that are important for their growth. As plants need light to power the photosynthesis that drives their growth, it means that their life is closely linked to the daily changes in the environment. Plant life has evolved circadian clocks, which they use to detect the time of day and anticipate the regular changes in their environment. This leads to daily or circadian rhythms in the processes of plant cells that provide plants with considerable benefits. Circadian rhythms affect many responses of crops to their environments, such as their responses to changes in the temperature and light conditions.

Through some laboratory studies it was found out that circadian rhythms in plants caused them to be more sensitive to the herbicide around dawn than around dusk, with the cellular circadian clock being responsible for this daily variation. Also, a smaller quantity of herbicide was needed at certain times of day to reduce plant growth compared with at other times, and this was caused by the circadian clock of the plant.

The findings of this laboratory study, scaled up, could allow farmers to tune the quantity of herbicide that they use to the time of day, as the research suggests that plants also respond differently to chemicals used in agriculture depending on the time of day that they are applied.

This new finding could form the basis of new types of precision agriculture, and potentially contribute to safer and more sustainable food production.

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