Irene Martín Morales I Málaga, (EFE).- The ‘La Mayora’ Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture (IHSM) in Malaga is investigating how to increase the resistance of strawberry crops, which in Spain are concentrated in the province of Huelva, that are capable of withstanding the increasingly frequent episodes of extreme drought.
As biologist Victoria Sánchez explained to EFE, the idea is to apply autophagy to strawberries artificially. A natural mechanism that living beings use “to survive adverse situations and stay healthy.” From the recycling of nutrients and a “more efficient” use of them.
More “happy and turgid” strawberries
Plants, he points out, often make use of this process due to factors related to the environment. Such as the lack of water, nutrients and light or excess heat, situations that make them subject to stress.
“In the same way that human beings suffer stress for different reasons, plants also suffer it,” says Sánchez.
His laboratory, which applies induced autophagy to transgenic plants by means of a gene, intends to test whether through this method, and subjected to a lack of water, strawberries “are happier, greener and more turgid” compared to those not chemically altered. .
If the method works, strawberries could better cope with “the circumstances arising from climate change.” This could also lead to a “more efficient use of water.” Reduce the fertilizers that are applied and contaminate the rivers with their waste and generate an “environmental benefit”. At the same time that “an economic saving for farmers”.
“We raised this project because we think it is a real problem and, of course, taking into account the situation that is taking place in Doñana,” argues Sánchez. That she is convinced that in the long term this system could be transferred to extensive agriculture.
the first results
According to Sánchez, the project “is still halfway”, but the first results are already being achieved. “We have already seen that it is related to the development of the fruit and we are doing some preliminary analyzes to see how these plants respond,” he adds.
The transgenic plants with which the laboratory works today “cannot normally be grown commercially”, but “if they achieve this protective effect, this knowledge could still be applied to look for lines that may have a level of natural autophagy and see if that correlates with greater resistance to drought.”
“Within the project there is another objective, which is to see how autophagy is regulated. We have established that it is important for strawberry ripening, but we do not know why it is induced or what molecular elements induce autophagy. Now what we want is to investigate that part”, remarks the biologist from La Mayora.
The researcher recalls other similar projects that were previously carried out with tomatoes and apples in relation to the drought. And she points out that in other parts of the world different strategies are applied to analyze the molecular pathways of plants in their fight against drought.
Sánchez’s study, which started in September 2021 as a one-man project of the Ministry of Science and Innovation, expects to obtain definitive results in October 2024. EFE