Stressed corn. (ISU photo)

An Iowa State University study shows how plants’ genetic factors are impacting crop stress as it relates to climate change.

Stephen Howell, a distinguished professor of genetics, development and cell biology at ISU, says they’re making critical advances.
“There are two very different systems within plants that recognize heat stress and help to protect plants from heat stress,” Howell says. “They’ve been thought to work very independently, and what we’ve been able to show is that the systems actually are coordinated and they work together.”

He notes it’s completely coincidental the study is being released at a time when Iowa is seeing crops impacted by drought — and by the derecho.  “All of these issues about climate change have had an influence on the kind of work that we’re doing,” Howell says. “We’re very concerned about how well our crops in Iowa are able to tolerate heat stress and so this has motivated quite a bit of our studies.”

Howell says the study is being done through the use of a state-of-the-art facility called the Envirotron at the ISU Ag Engineering/Agronomy Research Farm. “We can simulate different climate conditions and ask then how plants perform under those conditions,” Howell says. “We have this fantastic robot that’s able to travel from one incubator chamber to another to be able to monitor plants and how they’re doing.”

The complete study is appearing in the academic journal, The Plant Cell.

(By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)