Gene Tweak Could Grow Crops in Toxic Soil

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2008 10:35 AM CDT
Genetic engineers have made a breakthrough that could allow crops to thrive in soil rendered toxic by aluminum.   (Shutter Stock)
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(Newser) – Scientists have made a breakthrough that could dramatically boost the world's food production by making more land farmable, Wired reports. A slight change to a single gene allows plants to thrive in earth made toxic by aluminum, which currently renders nearly half of the world's soil useless for growing crops. The metal severely stunts root growth, and scientists think they’ve figured out why.

The culprit appears to be a cell-growth-stopping enzyme that is released by a certain gene when it encounters aluminum. Researchers are hopeful that farmers can benefit from the breakthrough without the need for genetic engineering by using so-called “smart breeding” to create crop seed from plants with the most metal-savvy genes. "You can do that with molecular tools, not biotechnology," said a biologist.