Magic Plant Used For Genetic Study Suitable For Growing Food In Space

Posted: Nov 6 2015, 4:37am CST | by , Updated: Nov 7 2015, 11:59pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Pitjuri plant
Photo credit: QUT

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Scientists from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia have published a study in the journal Nature Plant, detailing how an ancient tobacco plant Nicotiana benthamiana, known as Pitjuri among indigenous Aboriginal tribes, could be used to grow crops in space and in other arid climates.

A plant geneticist at QUT, Professor Peter Waterhouse, observed this fact while studying the history of the “magic” plant, which for several decades has been used by scientists and geneticists to test plant virus and vaccines.

According to Waterhouse, scientists use the plant as a “laboratory rat” of the molecular plant world, and it was sent by an Australian scientist to the US in 1939 for further research, from where it has passed from one lab to another globally.

"By sequencing its genome and looking through historical records we have been able to determine that the original plant came from the Granites area near the Western Australia and Northern Territory border, close to where Wolf Creek was filmed,” Waterhouse said.

“We know, through using a molecular clock and fossil records, that this particular plant has survived in its current form in the wild for around 750,000 years," he added.

Assisted by lead researcher Dr. Julia Bally, the scientists said researchers have always wondered how the plant survived in the wild for centuries, adding that the amazing properties of the plant make it suitable for plant biotechnology research – being the equivalent of the nude mouse use in medical research.

"The plant has lost its "immune system" and has done that to focus its energies on being able to germinate and grow quickly, rapidly flower, and set seed after even a small amount of rainfall,” Dr. Bally said.

"Its focus is on creating small flowers but large seeds and on getting these seeds back into the soil in time for the next rain,” she added. "The plant has worked out how to fight drought - its number one predator - in order to survive through generations."

Apart from the fact that further study would yield knowledge for speeding up agricultural research, the scientists say Pitjuri is able to be grown in space, making the way for other similar plants to grow food in space among other sterile environments.

Both Dr. Bally and Professor Waterhouse have applied for a patent on their study on Nicotiana benthamiana.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/52" rel="author">Charles I. Omedo</a>
Charles is covering the latest discoveries in science and health as well as new developments in technology. He is the Chief Editor or Intel-News.

 

 

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