WA banksia holds the key to a new breed of hardy crop

WITH the challenge of feeding 9.1 billion people by 2050 weighing heavily on the minds of food producers everywhere, a new breakthrough that allows plants to grow with minimal phosphorus has agronomists excited.
WA banksia holds the key to a new breed of hardy crop WA banksia holds the key to a new breed of hardy crop WA banksia holds the key to a new breed of hardy crop WA banksia holds the key to a new breed of hardy crop WA banksia holds the key to a new breed of hardy crop

WA's native banksia (Banksia menziesii) has been helping researchers develop new hardy crops.

Kristy Moroney

Australian agricultural production relies on the addition of phosphorus based fertilisers (or P-fertilisers) to meet the nutritional demands of crops. The fertilisers can be expensive and are derived from a finite and non-renewable natural resource called phosphate rock.

P-fertilisers have been found to cause chemical pollution and in many economically-poor regions farmers can no longer afford the expense, potentially causing a bottleneck for future global food production.

Research from the University of Western Australia has found a new way that allows plants to grow and reproduce with an extremely low level of P.

Researchers have taken advantage of the P deficiency in the south-western Australian soils and studied how plants cope with the low-P availability in these landscapes.

Lead researcher from The University of Western Australia, Dr Asad Prodhan said in order to adapt to the low-P environments, the south-western Australian plants have evolved to function at a low concentration of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) the largest pool of organic P in leaf cells.

Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) is an integral part of the protein-synthesising machinery in cell, rRNA accounts for 40 per cent of the total organic P in leaf cells.

The low concentration of rRNA reduces P demand and reduces the protein synthesis capacity, impacting the nitrogen, sulphur and micronutrient consumption.

"This reduces leaf P requirement by at least 50% without compromising their photosynthetic performance," Dr Prodhan said.

"The low concentration of rRNA also reduces the consumption of the protein-synthesising nutrients," he said.

"The bigger picture of these findings is that the south-western Australian plants are not only P-efficient but also nitrogen, sulphur and micronutrient-efficient. This could revolutionise the nutrient demand in food crops, thus contribute towards securing the global food production."

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