A study by researchers at the University of East Anglia in the US, reported that 25 percent of the world's lands are threatened by drought, as water resources are declining due to the effects of climate change.
A solution by the University of California could address this problem. It involves a chemical that helps plants hold onto and preserve water, which could stem the wave of massive annual crop losses from drought.
Senior author Sean Cutler, a plant biologist at University of California, said: "Drought is the No. 1 cause of annual crop failures worldwide.”
“This chemical is an exciting new tool that could help farmers better manage crop performance when water levels are low."
Details of the team's work on the newer, more effective anti-water-loss chemical are described in a paper published in the Science journal. They named the new chemical, Opabactin, or "OP."
The drug mimics abscisic acid, or ABA, the natural hormone produced by plants in response to drought stress. ABA slows a plant's growth, so it doesn't consume more water than is available and doesn't wilt.
Scientists have known for a long time that spraying plants with ABA can improve their drought tolerance. However, it is too unstable and expensive to be useful to most farmers. This led farmers to seek an affordable replacement, the Opabactin.
When ABA binds to a hormone receptor molecule in a plant cell, it forms two tight bonds, like hands grabbing onto handles. Scientists searched millions of different hormone-mimicking molecules and resulted in OP.
"OP is 10-times stronger than ABA, which makes it a 'super hormone.' And it works fast. Within hours it could give growers more flexibility around how they deal with drought," Cutler told Asharq Al-Awsat via email.
"One thing we can do that plants can't is predict the near future with reasonable accuracy. Two weeks out, if we think there's a reasonable chance of drought, we have enough time to make decisions like applying OP that can improve crop yields," he explained.