Research and Innovations

New source of global nitrogen discovered

Not all of the nitrogen on the planet comes from the atmosphere, according to a new study. Up to a quarter comes from Earth's bedrock. The discovery could greatly improve climate change projections. 

Source: University of California, Davis

Srinagar, April 12: For centuries, the prevailing science has indicated that all of the nitrogen on Earth available to plants comes from the atmosphere. But a study from the University of California, Davis, indicates that more than a quarter comes from Earth's bedrock.

The study, to be published April 6 in the journal Science, found that up to 26 percent of the nitrogen in natural ecosystems is sourced from rocks, with the remaining fraction from the atmosphere.

Before this study, the input of this nitrogen to the global land system was unknown. The discovery could greatly improve climate change projections, which rely on understanding the carbon cycle. This newly identified source of nitrogen could also feed the carbon cycle on land, allowing ecosystems to pull more emissions out of the atmosphere, the authors said.

"Our study shows that nitrogen weathering is a globally significant source of nutrition to soils and ecosystems worldwide," said co-lead author Ben Houlton, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and director of the UC Davis Muir Institute. "This runs counter the centuries-long paradigm that has laid the foundation for the environmental sciences. We think that this nitrogen may allow forests and grasslands to sequester more fossil fuel CO2 emissions than previously thought."

Weathering Is Key

Ecosystems need nitrogen and other nutrients to absorb carbon dioxide pollution, and there is a limited amount of it available from plants and soils. If a large amount of nitrogen comes from rocks, it helps explain how natural ecosystems like boreal forests are capable of taking up high levels of carbon dioxide.

But not just any rock can leach nitrogen. Rock nitrogen availability is determined by weathering, which can be physical, such as through tectonic movement, or chemical, such as when minerals react with rainwater.

That's primarily why rock nitrogen weathering varies across regions and landscapes. The study said that large areas of Africa are devoid of nitrogen-rich bedrock while northern latitudes have some of the highest levels of rock nitrogen weathering. Mountainous regions like the Himalayas and Andes are estimated to be significant sources of rock nitrogen weathering, similar to those regions' importance to global weathering rates and climate. Grasslands, tundra, deserts and woodlands also experience sizable rates of rock nitrogen weathering.

Geology and Carbon Sequestration

Mapping nutrient profiles in rocks to their potential for carbon uptake could help drive conservation considerations. Areas with higher levels of rock nitrogen weathering may be able to sequester more carbon.

"Geology might have a huge control over which systems can take up carbon dioxide and which ones don't," Houlton said. "When thinking about carbon sequestration, the geology of the planet can help guide our decisions about what we're conserving."

Mysterious Gap

The work also elucidates the "case of the missing nitrogen." For decades, scientists have recognized that more nitrogen accumulates in soils and plants than can be explained by the atmosphere alone, but they could not pinpoint what was missing.

"We show that the paradox of nitrogen is written in stone," said co-leading author Scott Morford, a UC Davis graduate student at the time of the study. "There's enough nitrogen in the rocks, and it breaks down fast enough to explain the cases where there has been this mysterious gap."

In previous work, the research team analyzed samples of ancient rock collected from the Klamath Mountains of Northern California to find that the rocks and surrounding trees there held large amounts of nitrogen. With the current study, the authors built on that work, analyzing the planet's nitrogen balance, geochemical proxies and building a spatial nitrogen weathering model to assess rock nitrogen availability on a global scale.

The researchers say the work does not hold immediate implications for farmers and gardeners, who greatly rely on nitrogen in natural and synthetic forms to grow food. Past work has indicated that some background nitrate in groundwater can be traced back to rock sources, but further research is needed to better understand how much.

Rewriting Textbooks

"These results are going to require rewriting the textbooks," said Kendra McLauchlan, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which co-funded the research. "While there were hints that plants could use rock-derived nitrogen, this discovery shatters the paradigm that the ultimate source of available nitrogen is the atmosphere. Nitrogen is both the most important limiting nutrient on Earth and a dangerous pollutant, so it is important to understand the natural controls on its supply and demand. Humanity currently depends on atmospheric nitrogen to produce enough fertilizer to maintain world food supply. A discovery of this magnitude will open up a new era of research on this essential nutrient."

UC Davis Professor Randy Dahlgren in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources co-authored the study.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences and its Division of Environmental Biology, as well as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In a breakthrough, scientists engineer crops to conserve water, resist drought

Ziraat Times Research Desk

March 14: For the first time, scientists have improved how a crop uses water by 25 percent, without compromising yield, by altering the expression of one gene that is found in all plants.

Agriculture already monopolizes 90 percent of global freshwater -- yet production still needs to dramatically increase to feed and fuel this century's growing population. For the first time, scientists have improved how a crop uses water by 25 percent without compromising yield by altering the expression of one gene that is found in all plants, as reported in Nature Communications.

The research is part of the international research project Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) that is supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Department for International Development.

"This is a major breakthrough," said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences. "Crop yields have steadily improved over the past 60 years, but the amount of water required to produce one ton of grain remains unchanged -- which led most to assume that this factor could not change. Proving that our theory works in practice should open the door to much more research and development to achieve this all-important goal for the future."

The international team increased the levels of a photosynthetic protein (PsbS) to conserve water by tricking plants into partially closing their stomata, the microscopic pores in the leaf that allow water to escape. Stomata are the gatekeepers to plants: When open, carbon dioxide enters the plant to fuel photosynthesis, but water is allowed to escape through the process of transpiration.

"These plants had more water than they needed, but that won't always be the case," said co-first author Katarzyna Glowacka, a postdoctoral researcher who led this research at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). "When water is limited, these modified plants will grow faster and yield more -- they will pay less of a penalty than their non-modified counterparts."

The team improved the plant's water-use-efficiency -- the ratio of carbon dioxide entering the plant to water escaping -- by 25 percent without significantly sacrificing photosynthesis or yield in real-world field trials. The carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by 25 percent in just the past 70 years, allowing the plant to amass enough carbon dioxide without fully opening its stomata. 

"Evolution has not kept pace with this rapid change, so scientists have given it a helping hand," said Long, who is also a professor of crop sciences at Lancaster University.

Four factors can trigger stomata to open and close: humidity, carbon dioxide levels in the plant, the quality of light, and the quantity of light. This study is the first report of hacking stomatal responses to the quantity of light.

PsbS is a key part of a signaling pathway in the plant that relays information about the quantity of light. By increasing PsbS, the signal says there is not enough light energy for the plant to photosynthesize, which triggers the stomata to close since carbon dioxide is not needed to fuel photosynthesis.

This research complements previous work, published in Science, which showed that increasing PsbS and two other proteins can improve photosynthesis and increase productivity by as much as 20 percent. Now the team plans to combine the gains from these two studies to improve production and water-use by balancing the expression of these three proteins.

For this study, the team tested their hypothesis using tobacco, a model crop that is easier to modify and faster to test than other crops. Now they will apply their discoveries to improve the water-use-efficiency of food crops and test their efficacy in water-limited conditions.

"Making crop plants more water-use efficient is arguably the greatest challenge for current and future plant scientists," said co-first author Johannes Kromdijk, a postdoctoral researcher at the IGB. "Our results show that increased PsbS expression allows crop plants to be more conservative with water use, which we think will help to better distribute available water resources over the duration of the growing season and keep the crop more productive during dry spells."

Reproduced by Ziraat Times with courtesy from: Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illnois

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Research and Innovations

New method to improve crops

March 9, 2018

ZT Research Team

Technique using plant's own DNA could produce crops that are more resistant to drought and disease

A team of University of Georgia researchers has developed a new way to breed plants with better traits. By introducing a human protein into the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, researchers found that they could selectively activate silenced genes already present within the plant.

Using this method to increase diversity among plant populations could serve to create varieties that are able to withstand drought or disease in crops or other plant populations, and the researchers have already begun testing the technique on maize, soy and rice.

They published their findings in Nature Communications.

The research project was led by Lexiang Ji, a doctoral student in bioinformatics, and William Jordan, a doctoral student in genetics. The new method they explored, known as epimutagenesis, will make it possible to breed diverse plants in a way that isn't possible with traditional techniques.

"In the past this has been done with traditional breeding. You take a plant, breed it with another plant that has another characteristic you want to create another plant," said Jordan. "The problem with that is getting an individual that has all of the characteristics you want and none of the characteristics that you don't want. It's kind of difficult. With our new technique, you can modify how the genes are turned on and off in that plant without having to introduce a whole other set of genes from another parent."

The idea for the method evolved originally from working in the lab with department of genetics professor Robert Schmitz, the corresponding author on the study. In his lab, researchers were studying DNA methylation, which controls expressed genetic traits, and creating maps of where DNA methylation is located in many plant species, including crops. When DNA methylation is removed, researchers found that they could selectively turn on previously silenced genes in the underlying genome of the plant.

"We saw repeatedly that lots of genes are silenced by DNA methylation and thought it was kind of curious," said Schmitz. "There are lots of discussions you can have about why these exist, but the reality is that they are there. So we wondered, how can we leverage them? 

Let's use the plant already in the field and reawaken some of those silenced genes to generate trait variation."

To turn these dormant or silenced genes on, researchers introduced a human enzyme, known as a ten-eleven translocation enzyme, to plant seedlings using specially modified bacteria as a delivery vector. Introducing this human protein allows researchers to remove DNA methylation and thereby turn on previously silenced genes.

Figuring out the best way to introduce the protein to the plant species has been a trial and error process. With Ji's expertise in bioinformatics, researchers are able to look at large sets of data about their experiment and make decisions on how to best proceed with the project.

"The data has really helped us brainstorm and coordinate what we should do next," said Ji. "That was particularly important in the beginning of this project because we just didn't know what was going to happen with this new technique."

"Thousands of years ago you'd plant out hundreds of plants and one of them does really well so you'd breed out generations of that plant. Doing this though, you narrow down the genetic diversity until they're basically very, very similar," said Jordan. "While that's beneficial for yield or other plant characteristics that you might want, if there's a stress that they're not well adapted to because they're all so similar they're all going to respond in the same way. That creates a potentially vulnerable crop."

"If they don't have the genetic differences to respond, then it can really wipe out crops," added Schmitz. "This isn't a savior, but it's an alternative strategy that has not been tried before. The idea is to access genes that people haven't been studying because they're not expressed but they're there. We think this method to reactivate these genes could lead to increased trait variation which could be useful for biotechnology applications."

Source: University of Georgia

SKUAST-K scientist discovers new gene target and medicine for prostate cancer treatment

ZT News 

Srinagar, Feb 19: Dr. Khalid Zaffar Masoodi, a scientist at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences (SKUAST), Kashmir, has identified a new gene, DHX15, that drives the spread and growth of cancerous cells. 

The study was done in collaboration with University of Pittsburgh, USA and has been published in February 2018 issue of Nature Oncogene, a top rated Journal from Nature publishing group. 

This major study is the first to reveal how DHX15 over-expression is associated with prostate cancer recurrence and provides a potential new molecular target for the treatment of advanced Prostate cancer.

"We were astonished to find that DHX15 had a role in cancer’s spread round the body, but to discover how it also appears to drive the growth of prostate cancer cells is a real game changer,” says Dr. Masoodi, Assistant professor and Team Leader at the Transcriptomics Laboratory, Division of Plant Biotechnology.

Prof. Nazeer Ahmed Vice Chancellor of SKUAST-K in his comments said that this study confirms DHX15 as an exciting new target for prostate cancer treatment – and one with great potential for the future. Dr. Ahmed has congratulated the team led by Dr. Masoodi for taking this research to new paradigms by attracting funding of 2 crore from Govt. of India for identifying new drugs from medicinal plants against prostate cancer and creating a fluorescence imaging facility at SKUAST-Kashmir.

With an increase in incidence on endocrine related cancers in the farming communities especially the paddy and apple growing population in Kashmir Valley, Dr. Ahmed emphasized that the research will help the farming community of Kashmir in circumventing and timely controlling the menace of Cancer in the valley. For the first time SKUAST-K has has attracted funding for Drug discovery against cancer. This is a bold step taken by the SKUAST-K and will open new vistas for research in agriculture and allied fields.

Dr. Masoodi recently discovered three new prototype drugs against Prostate cancer that are highlighted in recent issues of Molecular Cancer Therapeuitcs and Endocrinology, high impact factor journals from the league. 

The first of a new generation of these drugs which can fight, and possibly cure, prostate cancer have been successfully tested in mice xenograft models.

Crop-saving soil tests now at farmers' fingertips

ZT Research Team

Washington, March 4: Soil pathogen testing -- critical to farming, but painstakingly slow and expensive -- will soon be done accurately, quickly, inexpensively and onsite, thanks to research that Washington State University scientists plant pathologists are sharing.

As the name implies, these tests detect disease-causing pathogens in the soil that can severely devastate crops.

Until now, the tests have required large, expensive equipment or lab tests that take weeks.

The soil pathogen analysis process is based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that are very specific and sensitive and only possible in a laboratory.

The new methods, designed by WSU plant pathologists, are not only portable and fast, but utilize testing materials easily available to the public. A paper by the researchers lists all the equipment and materials required to construct the device, plus instructions on how to put it all together and conduct soil tests.

Responding to growers needs

"We've heard from many growers that the time it takes to obtain results from soil samples sent to a lab is too long," said Kiwamu Tanaka, assistant professor in WSU's Department of Plant Pathology. 

"The results come back too late to be helpful. But if they can get results on site, they could make informed decisions about treatments or management changes before they even plant their crop."

Some diseases from soil pathogens may not be visible until weeks after the crop has sprouted, Tanaka said. That could be too late to treat the disease or could force farmers to use more treatments.

Magnetic breakthrough

WSU graduate student Joseph DeShields, a first author on the paper, said it took about six months of work to get their device to work in the field. It relies on magnets to capture pathogens' DNA from the soil.

"It turns out, it's really hard to separate and purify genetic material from soil because soil contains so much material for PCR tests," said DeShields "So we were thrilled when we made that breakthrough."

Rachel Bomberger is a WSU plant diagnostician who helped with the concepts of the machine testing. She said she's impressed by what Tanaka and the team accomplished.

"We removed a huge stumbling block when it comes to soil testing," said Bomberger, one of the co-authors on the paper. "We found the missing piece that makes the testing systems work in the field without expensive lab equipment or testing materials."

Worldwide application

The system was tested on potato fields around eastern Washington, Tanaka said, but it will work on soil anywhere in the world.

"It's a really versatile method," he said. 

"You could use it for nationwide pathogen mapping or look at the distribution of pathogens around the country. We started small, but this could have huge implications for testing soil health and disease."

Tanaka said it was important for this discovery to be available in an open-access video journal.

"We're always concerned about helping every grower and the industry as a whole," Tanaka said. "We want everybody to look at this and use it, if they think they'll benefit from it."

Story Source:

Washington State University. Original written by Scott Weybright. 

Latest research and innovations from around the globe

Changing weather patterns throwing ecosystems out of whack

ZT Research Team

Uploaded:  Feb 9, 2018 

Source: University of South Florida (USF Health)

In a study published in Nature Climate Change, a team of researchers from the University of South Florida in Tampa found that animal species are shifting the timing of their seasonal activities, also known as phenology, at different rates in response to changing seasonal temperatures and precipitation patterns.

"As species' lifecycles grow out of alignment, it can affect the functioning of ecosystems with potential impacts on human food supplies and diseases," said lead author Jeremy Cohen, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Florida Department of Integrative Biology. 

"We rely on honeybees to pollinate seasonal crops and migratory birds to return in the spring to eat insects that are crop pests and vectors of human diseases. If the timing of these and other seasonal events are off, ecosystems can malfunction with potentially adverse effects on humans."

Dr. Cohen and his team found that cold-blooded species and those with small body sizes are breeding or aggregating earlier than warm-blooded or large-bodied species in spring. They come to this conclusion after reviewing thousands of records of phenological shifts dating back to the 1950s.

"Our research elucidates the drivers of phenological responses and the traits of organisms that influence their ability to track changing climates," said co-author Jason Rohr, PhD, professor at the University of South Florida. "We expect these findings to improve our ability to forecast the locations, systems and species that might be at the greatest risk from climate change and ideally mitigate any adverse effects that these changes might have on the services that ecosystems provide to humans."

Scientists are breeding super-nutritious crops to help solve global hunger

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

An incredible 155m children around the world are chronically undernourished, despite dramatic improvements in recent decades. In view of this, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include Zero Hunger. But what do we understand by the word hunger?

It may refer to lack of food or widespread food shortages caused by war, drought, crop failure or government policies. But as researchers, we are particularly interested in a different kind of hunger – one that is less visible but equally devastating.

Micronutrient deficiencies, also known as hidden hunger, occurs when there is a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in a person’s diet. This condition affects more than two billion people globally, and can contribute to stunted growth, poor cognitive development, increased risk of infections, and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The wider impacts of micronutrient deficiencies socially and economically are also well established.

Supplementation and food fortification have long been used around the world to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies. Both strategies boast high cost/benefit ratios. But as they require repeated investment, their sustainability is limited. 

Supplements may be used to treat multiple micronutrient deficiencies, but this is a resource-intensive approach and does not address the cause of the problem – dietary inadequacy.

Food fortification, on the other hand, improves the nutritional quality of food itself. Here, micronutrients are added to commonly consumed foods at the processing stage. This strategy can be implemented at population level, and does not require individuals to change their eating behaviours.

In the UK, for example, flour has been fortified with calcium since World War II, when a reduced supply of dairy products was anticipated. Today, many of our foods are fortified, including bread, cereal products and fat spreads.

In developing countries, food fortification has gained momentum in recent years through the work of organisations like the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Large scale food fortification programmes have enhanced the micronutrient content of a range of staple foods in over 30 countries. For example, the GAIN/UNICEF Universal Salt Iodization Partnership has protected 466m people in 14 countries against the debilitating effects of iodine deficiency – such as mental impairment and goitre, a swelling in the neck resulting from an enlarged thyroid gland.

But one major disadvantage of food fortification is that some of the poorest families may not have access to commercially processed foods. And it is these remote rural communities – that grow and process food locally – that are often the most affected by hidden hunger.

Farming the Sun: How the Agriculture Industry Is Saving with Solar

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

Across the agriculture industry, doing more with less has become a mantra. The pressure to increase yields from an ever decreasing availability of tillable land makes farming today particularly challenging, and shows no signs of reversing as population density increases worldwide.

In light of this, growers, producers, and distributors are looking for new ways to optimize efficiency, particularly with regard to energy use – one of the top expenses for farmers and ag operators. One of the ways they’re doing this is by putting their land to work in a new way.

A New Kind of Harvest

Solar installations and solar farms are becoming a frequent sight in California’s Central Valley, where nearly 40 percent of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and other table foods are grown.1 For Golden Empire Shelling (GES) in Buttonwillow, California, adding solar to its almond shelling facilities was a simple business decision.

“I’d looked at solar three or four times over the past 10 years,” GES General Manager John Wynn recalls, “and each time it became more affordable. Now, as an industry we are really at a point where solar makes complete financial sense.”

When Wynn got his start in the almond business nearly 20 years ago, the industry was producing a fraction of the crop it does today. Founded in 2007, GES is a grower-owned, state-of-the-art facility, processing up to 70 million meat pounds of almonds per year. When California’s drought caused yields to decline, Wynn sought an equally state-of-the-art solution that could help cut costs: solar.

While GES is a dry-processing operation, the 45,000-square-foot facility runs 24/7 during the four-month harvest, and maintaining a dust-free operation requires giant Hoover-style vacuums during the process season. With the company’s cost of power increasing an average of 5 percent a year, Wynn recognized the need to drastically reduce or eliminate the company’s electric bill.

That’s when Wynn turned to Jeff Pereira, owner of SunPower by Sun Solar, for a solution. Pereira and his team recommended a ground-mounted system utilizing four acres of land, with a total of 2,400 high-performance solar panels mounted on trackers that follow the sun with precision from daybreak to sundown.

The SunPower® HelixTM system produces more energy than conventional solar systems because of the enhanced performance efficiency of SunPower panels – a key metric to evaluate when considering solar, according to Pereira. Because of their higher performance, GES was able to use less land than projected for the system, an important consideration.

“Land and water come at a premium in our valley, so it was imperative that we get the most value out of our over 4-acre solar installation,” said Wynn. “With the cost-competitive solar generated by our SunPower Helix system, Golden Empire Shelling will be able to dramatically reduce electricity costs and our carbon footprint for at least the next 20 years.”

Basic mechanisms for root growth and cell replenishment

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

Source: Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics

Understanding the functioning of root biology is crucial to know how plants suffer or adapt to adverse environmental conditions like droughts. Two recent studies describe these kinds of mechanisms: one of them, published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology, describes the process through which cells stop growing due cell differentiation; the second one, published in Journal of Cell Science, describes plants' cell replenishment after being damaged.

The first study results from the researches carried out by the team of biologist Ana Caño Delgado, CSIC researcher in the Center for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), and physicist Marta Ibañes, from the Department of Condensed Matter Physics and the Institute of Complex Systems of the University of Barcelona (UBICS). The second study was conducted by the same team in CRAG.

How do cells know when to stop growing?

The Arabidopsis thaliana plant root, used in these studies, is a quite simple organ, in which cells with different functions are separated. Therefore, stem cells are on the tip, surrounded by daughter cells which are divided to produce root's tissues. Daughter cells grow in length and differ from the others to acquire typical functions that allow the root to transport water and nutrients. In order for the root to grow and adapt to a new changing environment, this division, elongation and cell differentiation has to be perfectly coordinated.

Ibañes' and Caño Delgado's teams used three hypotheses to explain how cells know when to stop growing: a certain period of time passed since they got divided, they detect their root's position, or cells are able to detect their size. To clarify which one of these hypotheses was the right one, researcher Irina Pavelescu, first author of the study, created three analytical and computational root growth models. These models were tested with real measures of cell length in Arabidopsis roots, carried out with confocal microscopy in CRAG. 

"The main conclusion of the study is that root cells know they reached the proper size and then they stop growing and end the differentiation. Therefore, they stop growing due their size," says Marta Ibañes (UB, UBICS).

Thanks to the created mathematical models, researchers could also explain the effect of the steroid plant hormones -brassinosteroids- in the root growth. In this case, they measured cells from Arabidopsis plants that, due a lack of receptor for steroid hormones, have a tiny root and stem. The study proved roots grew when, through molecular biology techniques with cell resolution, the brassinosteroid receptor was restored only in cells that divide, which points out that the effect of the hormone stays in the cell during its growth phase.

Plant steroids are essential for cell regeneration

Simultaneously, the research team in CRAG led by Ana Caño Delgado discovered more details on the root growth and its post-damaged cell repair capacity, which have been published in the Journal of Cell Science. In particular, the published study states that, when root stem cells die due a genomic stress, a signal of steroid hormones is sent to reservoir stem cells so that these divide and replace the damaged ones. Thus, root growth is maintained, and so is the plant's life.

"Plant steroids, unlike most of plant hormones, are not transported through long distances. However, our study proves that there is a transportation of these hormones at a short distance, and this is important for cell communication during cell renovation," says Fidel Lozano Elena, pre-doctoral student in CRAG and first author of the study. "This more complex signalling system between cell groups make plants to be more resilient," adds Ainoa Planas Riverola, also first author and PhD student in the group.

"If we can modulate these processes in the root, we can make roots stronger and better fixed, and therefore more resistant to the challenges of climate change," says Ana Caño Delgado. We cannot forget that droughts are now the most severe problem in agriculture. In Spain, there have been several years with less rain than normal, and according to a recent report by Unión de Pequeños Agricultores y Ganaderos (union of small farmers and ranchers, UPA), in 2017, droughts caused losses of more than 3,600 million euros in the agricultural sector in Spain, mostly due a big loss of productivity in crops. This situation occurs in all continents, putting at risk the capacity to feed the growing population. 

"Therefore, it is necessary to get crops that, with less water, can produce safe and quality food in sufficient quantities," concludes Caño Delgado.

Wetlands provide landscape-scale reduction in nitrate pollution

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

Source: University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering

A study by University of Minnesota researchers provides new insights to demonstrate that multiple wetlands or 'wetland complexes' within a watershed are extremely effective at reducing harmful nitrate in rivers and streams. These wetlands can be up to five times more efficient per unit area at reducing nitrate than the best land-based nitrogen mitigation strategies.

The research was published today in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience. The research was led by researchers from the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and the University's College of Biological Sciences.

In agricultural regions like the United States Midwest, excess nitrate derived from crop fertilizer makes its way to rivers and streams through subsurface drainage systems and agricultural ditches. Once in streams and rivers, high nitrate concentrations can be harmful to ecosystems and human health. This includes impacts such as drinking water contamination and the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. Although the topic has been the focus of extensive research, little traction has been made toward effective strategies for nitrate reduction at the landscape scale.

In this study, researchers used water samples collected over a four-year period from more than 200 waterways within the intensively managed, 17,000-square-mile Minnesota River basin, coupled with geo-spatial information about land use in the watershed. They were able to isolate the effect of wetlands on stream and river nitrate concentrations within large watersheds.

Significant research findings include:

  • When stream flows are high, wetlands are five times more efficient per unit area at reducing nitrate than the best land-based conservation practices. Other common conservation practices are effective at lower flow conditions but overwhelmed with higher stream flows.
  • The arrangement of wetlands within a watershed is a key predictor of the magnitude of nitrate reduction. If wetlands intercept 100 percent of the drainage area, they are three times more effective at nitrate removal compared to interception of 50 percent of the drainage area.
  • Nitrate reduction due to ephemeral (temporary) wetlands, such as riparian floodplains and more geographically isolated wetlands (wetlands not connected to the river network by surface water), was measurable and was highest during high stream flows, when such features are hydrologically connected to surface water.

This last finding is of particular interest to the current policy debate over management and regulations that influence water quality in agricultural regions. While there is strong scientific consensus that small or temporary water bodies such as ephemeral wetlands play essential roles for improving water quality downstream, their legal status for protection under the Clean Water Act is uncertain. Court rulings expected in 2018 could have a large impact on how, and if, these water bodies are protected in years to come.

"We value what we can measure, so this is an important step forward in recognizing that as we lose wetlands, we also lose the significant benefits they provide in terms of pollution control," said Amy Hansen, research associate at the University of Minnesota St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and one of the lead authors of the study.

A genetic trigger adds branches to plants, could boost crop yields

ZT Research Team

Uploaded: 9 Feb, 2018 

Source: American Chemical Society

When it comes to agriculture from branched plants, such as apple trees, the more branches that bear fruit, the better. But in the real world, there's a limit to the number of branches that plants make -- a gene tends to put the brakes on this splitting process called shoot branching. Today in ACS Central Science, researchers reveal a chemical that can reverse this limitation, possibly leading to improved crop production.

Previous studies of a plant hormone that inhibits shoot branching resulted in the identification of a regulator gene called D14. Shinya Hagihara, Yuichiro Tsuchiya and colleagues reasoned that if they could inhibit this regulator, they could do the opposite and increase branching. Tsuchiya and Hagihara's teams developed a screen in which they could monitor the shoot branching activity based on whether a reporter chemical called Yoshimulactone Green (YLG) glowed green.

By screening a library of 800 compounds, the researchers found that 18 of them inhibited D14 by 70 percent or more. Of these, one called DL1 was particularly active and specific. This inhibitor could increase shoot branching in both a type of flower and in rice. In preparation for DL1's use as a potential commercial agrochemical, the team is now testing how long the chemicals last in the soil and are investigating whether it is toxic to humans.

Progress achieved in bio-tech parks' project: S&T Dept.

As the departments awaits release of funds for major tendering work from Govt. of India, work on Project K-5000 is afoot.

Srinagar: Jan 2: In the year 2012 two Industrial Biotechnology Parks (IBTP) were taken up by the State Govt. with the Central Government, which were agreed verbally by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), Government of India (GoI) to be established one each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions.

In pursuance to the verbal commitment, two DPR’s for two IBTPs were submitted for consideration with a total project cost of Rs 52.21 crores (IBTP-Jammu Rs.30.66 Crores and IBTP-Kashmir Rs.21.55 Crores).

However, no formal approval was issued by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.

After the present political dispensation came to power, the State Cabinet allotted 10 acres of land in Industrial Estate Ghati Kathua for establishment of IBTP Jammu In the ending year 2015. The same allotted land was taken in the possession in the beginning of the Year 2016 by Science & Technology Department.

In November 2016 J&K Industrial Biotechnology Parks Society (J&K IBTPS), a society of Government of J&K, was registered for the implementation and management of these two IBTPS.

In the year 2017, the State Cabinet allotted State Land measuring 10 acres at Braripora, Handwara for the Establishment of IBTP Kashmir.

Subsequently, after the land allotment, the Ministry of S&T Govt. of India was requested by the State Government for considering revised Detailed Project Reports (DPR’s). The S&T Ministry, GoI, conceded the State Governments request and revised DPR was submitted to the Govt. of India with a total project cost of Rs.110.00 Crores (IBTP-Kashmir 55.00 crores and IBTP-Jammu Rs 55.00 crores).

The proposal was considered with a slightest change in its project cost by Ministry of S&T, Govt. of India and subsequently administrative approval for the two Biotech Parks was given to the State in 2017.

In January 2017, the First Governing Body Meeting of J&K Industrial

Biotechnology Parks Society (J&KIBTPS) was conducted in which major decisions for implementation of the IBTPs Projects were taken.

In January 2017, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was also signed with CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu/Kashmir by S&T Department, Govt. of J&K for taking them knowledge partners for establishment of two IBTPs Projects in record time of two years.

Meanwhile the Biotechnology Projects Scheme of Govt. of India has

transited from 12th Five Year Plan to 14th Finance Commission and the scheme has gone to the Financial Concurrence to PMO Office, Govt. of India due which the release of the Central funds got delayed. However, Govt. of India has communicated that before the closing this Financial Year 2017-18, funds shall be released to the State Government for two Biotech projects.

However, for early completion of these projects the process has been started and two PMC’s have been engaged for BTP Projects, one for Architectural Design of the project and another for Technical part of the project. The S&T department is waiting for the release of the funds from Government of India for major tendering of the work on two Biotech Parks.

In order to carry forward this Biotech-Mission, the Science and Technology Department has agreed to initiate other parts of the Biotech projects, till the Infrastructure of the two Industrial Biotechnology will come-up. The Project K-5000 was launched in June 2017 in its first trial in District Kupwara which is part of the Biotech Parks Project. 

Under this, Demonstration Farms of Medicinal and Aromatic plants shall be established in three years over 5000 kanals of State/Community Owned/Khaschari land of the District Kupwara so that these demonstration farms will act as motivators and will provide technical knowhow and planting material to the farmers. These demonstration farms will result in a culture of cultivation of cash crops by farmers on their proprietary land and they shift over from their habitual farming to economically remunerative cash crops farming.

On trial basis, the project K-5000 was launched in District Kupwara on 150 Kanals which has shown satisfactory results and the project is going in a positive direction. The K-5000 projects shall be started at other places of

the State to reach its benefits to the farming community for improving their economic returns from their land holdings.

In Nov-Dec 2017-18, two lakh lavender plants were transplanted in District Kupwara under this project K-5000. Therefore, total 400 Kanals of land has been brought under the cultivation in District Kupwara till date. 

In the Year 2018-19 the S&T Department has target to bring 2500 kanals of Community/Khaschari land under the cultivation of Medicinal and Aromatic plants in District Kupwara alone.

This is the statement Ziraat Times has received from the Science and Technology Department, Govt of J&K, in response to its earlier report on the status of the two Bio-technology Parks in Jammu & Kashmir. This has been re-produced without any editing.

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