- Alexandra Martins
- BBC News World
It is so common that in some countries it is consumed in soups or salads.
But few suspect that this plant, which in some places is considered a cannabis or cannabis, has extraordinary abilities.
Portulaca oleracea, commonly known as purslaneIt provides important clues to creating drought-resistant crops, according to a new study by scientists at Yale University in the United States.
But how does this grass manage to survive the harsh conditions of water scarcity and remain so productive?
The secret lies in the unique way in which one of the most important processes for life on this planet is carried out: photosynthesis.
Purslane is rich in vitamins and medicinal
Before we get into the peculiarities of how this plant uses solar energy, some facts about purslane.
“Portulaca oleracea is a highly resistant plant capable of growing in a wide range of ecosystems, including hot and dry areas,” Jose Moreno Villina, the author who led the new study, told BBC Mundo. study Published in the journal Science Advances.
The Spanish scientist, who carried out this work with colleagues when he was at Yale University, is currently working as a researcher at Kew Gardens, London’s Botanic Garden.
“Many of your readers may have seen this plant growing in cracks in sidewalks or as occasional plants in gardens.”
“Although it goes unnoticed, purslane is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make it an ideal meal ingredient,” he added.
The plant is also used in traditional Chinese medicine. “Its use is gaining more and more popularity all over the world.”
Moreno Villina and his colleagues have been studying purslane because it not only resists drought for long periods, but also grows quickly.
“These two traits rarely converge.researcher said.
What is photosynthesis and why is it different in some plants?
“Photosynthesis makes life as we know it on Earth possible,” Moreno Villina explained.
“It’s the process that allows plants to store energy from the sun and convert it into food.”
“This process not only supports plants and animals in ecosystems around the world, but it also releases oxygen into the atmosphere, while trapping carbon dioxide, or carbon dioxide.”
Most plants use a type of photosynthesis called C3, which works perfectly when there is a lot of water, the researcher said.
“However, in ecosystems where rainfall is scarce and temperatures are high, this type of photosynthesis does not function well, and plant growth and survival are compromised.”
To fix this problem Some groups of plants have developed the so-called C4 photosynthesis and CAM . photosynthesisdeveloping a set of different anatomical and biochemical characteristics that allow food to be produced without the need for much water.
For example, fast-growing plants such asCorn and sugarcane photosynthesize C4allowing the plant to remain productive under high temperatures.
On the other hand, like succulent plants Aloe vera or cacti, photosynthesis procedure CAM. “This is the case, for example, of the saguaro cactus in the desert. These plants are characterized by very slow growth. They leave part of the metabolism at night when the temperature is low, thus reducing water loss.”
Why is the purslane different?
What makes purslane unusual is that it contains evolutionary adaptations of C4 and CAM at the same time, which are “completely complementary”.
“So far it has been a mystery how both types of photosynthesis can function within the same leaf. Our studies show that These two systems work on the same thingalsoCell types share part of the biochemical ‘mechanism’, allowing their integration“.
When conditions are right, Portulaca oleracea C4 is used to grow explosively, but under dry conditions, CAM is initiated as an accessory pathway that supplies compounds with the C4 cycle, preventing them from stopping production.”
“Therefore, the combination of C4 and CAM provides extraordinary levels of protection in times of drought.”
Why is discovery important?
In their study, the researchers used new techniques called “Spatial Gene Expression Techniques“.
“It makes it possible to visualize how much each gene is expressed in each type of tissue or cell,” Moreno Villina explained.
“These methods are very new and have been used primarily in animal samples, but we have pioneered their use in plant leaves.”
Thus it was possible for the first time to locate enzymes in the different cell types of leaves that allow the two types of photosynthesis to be linked.
Their observations were compared with computational metabolic models developed by researcher Haoran Zhou for the study, which demonstrated the efficiency of this mechanism under water-deficient conditions.
The results of the study can be used to produce Crops that are more drought tolerantwhich will be more prolonged and intense in some areas due to global warming, according to the United Nations Panel on Climate Change, IPCC for its abbreviation in English.
Colin Osborne, a professor of plant biology at the University of Sheffield in England, who was not involved in the study, summed up its significance.
“Many wild plants have developed ways to become more productive in hot conditions or to become highly drought tolerant.”
“However, we previously thought that two of the most important modifications to achieve these goals could not happen at the same plant,” Osborne told BBC Mundo.
“Moreno Villina and colleagues show that these components can be coordinated to allow the two adaptations at the same time. Their research could inspire scientists working towards more productive crops that require less water.”
Could there be other plants like purslane?
Moreno Villina and colleagues hope to use the same new technology from this study in other plants.
“Plants tend to develop traits over and over again, and we think there may be many more species with this adaptation,” the scientist told BBC Mundo.
“There are about 390,000 known plant species, each with different traits and metabolic and genetic differences that allow them to thrive in their environment.”
“We keep learning new aspects of photosynthesis every day.”
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