A bigger, better food supply

A bigger, better food supply

Could hybrid plants be used to fight world hunger and the global energy crisis?

UT researchers think they might.

Scientists already knew that hybrid plants grow bigger and better than their parents. Now UT researchers may have learned why.

The reason: their internal clocks. Many of hybrids’ genes for photosynthesis and starch metabolism are more active during the day, UT researchers report in a new study published in the journal Nature. Until now, the molecular mechanisms for such growth have largely been unknown.

The UT research could result in new methods to increase biomass for biofuels and seed production for human consumption and for animal feedstock. Hybrid plants are created by cross-pollinating different strains.

In addition to hybrids, another type of plant grows more vigorously than its parents. These plants, known as polyploids, have two or more sets of chromosomes. More than 70 percent of all flowering plants, including many important agricultural crops such as wheat, cotton, canola, sugarcane, and banana, are naturally polyploid.

“Before this discovery, no one really knew how hybridization and polyploidy led to increased vigor,” says lead author Dr. Jeffrey Chen, the D. J. Sibley Centennial Professor of Plant Molecular Genetics. “This is certainly not the only mechanism behind this phenomenon, but it is a big step forward.”

The research team discovered a direct connection between circadian clock regulators and growth vigor in both hybrids and polyploids.

“We can think about screening parent plants for these genes and selecting the ones to make the best hybrids,” says Chen. “This could all be done through traditional breeding techniques and could have a huge impact on generating higher biomass crops for biofuels and increasing yield in many food crops.”

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program, and the National Basic Research Program of China.