Hacking genes: Creating plants that can grow in droughts

More than two billion people have been affected by drought over recent years but now new research may lead to drought resistant crops.

Scientists from Duke University hacked into a plant’s genetics and found a gene that tells the plant to conserve water when it senses there is not much available.

The discovery of the gene may help to enhance plants to react to drought conditions which could help to increase the amount of crops which could still grow despite a lack of water.

Figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation say that since 1900 more than 11m people have died from droughts.

These have been from either unsafe water sources or the negative impact they have upon crops.


Plants can adapt to a lack of water by increasing the amount of calcium in their cells.

The calcium levels then tell the plant that there is a lack of water, which can trigger further coping mechanisms.

The researchers identified the gene in the Arabidopsis thaliana plant – which is often used in lab research.

They said that the gene encodes a protein in the cell membranes of plant leaves and roots so it knows there is a lack of water.

Plants with defective versions of the calcium channel don’t send an alarm signal under water stress like normal plants do.

The team from the university grew normal plants and those with a defective version of the gene in the same pot.

When the plants were exposed to drought conditions, the plants wilted more than those with the gene intact.


Zhen-Ming Pei, an associate professor of biology at Duke who worked on the research, said that it is likely that plants will be able to be altered to adapt to the drought conditions.

“Plants that enter drought-fighting mode quickly and then switch back to normal growth mode quickly when drought stress is gone should be able to allocate energy more efficiently toward growth,” she said.

Now the researchers hope that they will be able to manipulate the gene and change it to a level where plants can be created to cope better without as much water as they would normally have.

Solar tech innovations to help create solar houses of tomorrow

Recently, Germany produced 50% of its electricity needs from solar, China has massively increased its solar capacity and the world’s largest solar farm opened near Los Angles. Solar’s growth is even outpacing that of wind.

The sun-powered energy source is definitely here to stay. Now, the challenge will be making solar an everyday power source for individuals in order for them to create off-grid power for their homes.

In California a new bill is set to allow home owners a cheaper way of installing panels on their homes.

The bill may streamline the process of installing the panels, reduce the bureaucracy and save up to $1,000 per home. The move may prove a significant incentive for home owners to install more panels around their homes.

Beyond panels that can be attached to the outside of buildings there are a huge range of technologies which are being developed that could help to revolutionise the home solar market.

We’ve rounded up some of the most promising solar developments from recent months. Many of them are still in development and need to increase their conversion efficiency but they give an indication of how solar our homes have the potential to be.

Rollable solar


Organic solar modules, rather than silicone cells, may lead to the creation of rollable solar panels.

Panels that are created in rolls of thin glass would lead to the ability to put solar on surfaces that may only receive the sun at certain times of the year.

The researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP said their early testing is showing promising signs.

Image courtesy of Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP

Solar car


The idea of a solar car has been around for a long time but earlier this year Ford revealed plans for a prototype solar-powered hybrid car.

It has a solar panel system on the roof which, when the car is fully powered, could power it for up to 21 miles on just the electricity.

The company said that a day of sunlight could produce the same performance as is given by their hybrid cars.

Image courtesy of Ford

Solar driveways

As one of the most successful crowd funding campaigns of all time, Solar Roadways has the public backing to be implemented as driveways leading up to our garages.

The technology, which can withhold large weights, could be used on patios, around pools and walkways at our houses.

The company is currently hiring more staff and refining its manufacturing processes as it hopes to expand further.

Solar windows


Even the windows of our future homes could be capturing energy from the sun thanks to a breakthrough in a technology that allows us to create solar technology that is transparent.

The organic molecules from researchers at Michigan State University would capture infrared rays before channelling them to the edge of the material.

When the rays reach the edge of the material, which could be attached to glass, they are converted to electricity by thin solar cells.

Image courtesy of Michigan State University 

Spray on solar


Researchers from the University of Sheffield have recently developed spray-on solar cells that could be used on new purchases for our homes.

New products could be covered with the solar technology to help them be more energy-efficient.

Those behind the work said they believe the technology is going to have an important role to play in the future of solar power generation.

Image courtesy of the University of Sheffield.