The biologists said crops could be made more efficient in using water through discoveries in plant transport proteins that regulate the “stomatal pores” in the epidermis of leaves, where plants lose more than 90 percent of their water through transpiration. Two other major goals in agriculture are increasing the carbohydrate content and pest-resistance of crops. A recent discovery of protein transporters that move sugar throughout the plant has been used to develop rice plants that confer pest resistance to crops, the biologists said, providing a novel way to simplify the engineering of crops with high yields and pest resistance, which could lead to reduced use of pesticides in the field.

“Just as our cell phones will need more advanced technology to carry more information, plants need better or new transporters to make them work harder on existing agricultural land,” said Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre in the U.K. and a corresponding co-author of the paper. “Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are the current solution, but we can make plants better at finding and carrying their own chemical elements.”

These recent developments in understanding the biology of plant transporters are leading to improved varieties less susceptible to adverse environments and for improving human health. Says Schroeder, “More fundamental knowledge and basic discovery research is needed and would enable us to further and fully exploit these advances and pursue new promising avenues of plant improvement in light of food and energy demands and the need for sustainable yield gains.”

In addition to Schroeder and Sanders, the co-authors of the paper are Emmanuel Delhaize of CSIRO in Canberra, Australia; Wolf Frommer of the Carnegie Institution of Science; Mary Lou Guerinot of Dartmouth College; Maria Harrison of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Ithaca, NY; Luis Herrera-Estrella of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute in Iraputo, Mexico; Tomoaki Horie of Shinshu University in Nagano, Japan; Leon Kochian of Cornell University; Rana Munns of the University of Western Australia in Perth; Naoko Nishizawa of Ishikawa Prefectural University in Japan; and Yi-Fang Tsay of the National Academy of Science of Taiwan.

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