As the climate warms, scientists are conducting experiments around the world to try to boost drought resistance in a wide range of crops. But a study out of the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan is especially promising because the key ingredient helping a wide range of crops survive severe drought is cheap and readily available: vinegar. Reporting in the journal Nature Plants, the researchers say that plants grown in drought conditions and treated with water or other organic acids all died—but 70% of those treated with just acetic acid (vinegar) lived.
The study came about because scientists are trying to understand why a mutation to an enzyme called HDA6 in Arabidopsis plants makes them so drought resistant, reports Phys.org. In normal conditions, HDA6 represses the production of acetic acid. During a drought, HDA6 is involved in a biological pathway that actually produces acetate, a salt that is a byproduct of acetic acid. In the Arabidopsis plants that are drought resistant, that pathway is extra active, producing far more acetate, reports Popular Science. Sure enough, in what Modern Farmer reports "could be a hugely important discovery," vinegar helped multiple crops in this study, including rice, wheat, and maize, survive drought-like conditions. Researchers say vinegar would be a far simpler and less costly solution than, say, genetically modifying most plants. (More than 100 million trees recently died in California.)