FEATURE-Ancient seeds in Mexico help fight warming effects

Fri Sep 17, 2010 3:02pm GMT
 

* Climate change could bring lower yields, food crisis

* Crossing plant varieties to fight drought, heat

By Mica Rosenberg

EL BATAN, Mexico, Sept 17 (Reuters) - More than 500 years after Spanish priests brought wheat seeds to Mexico to make wafers for the Catholic Mass, those seeds may bring a new kind of salvation to farmers hit by global warming.

Scientists working in the farming hills outside Mexico City found the ancient wheat varieties have particular drought- and heat-resistant traits, like longer roots that suck up water and a capacity to store more nutrients in their stalks.

They are crossing the plants with other strains developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in El Batan to grow types of wheat that can fight off the ill effects of rising temperatures around the world.

"It's like putting money in the bank to use, in this case, for a not rainy day," scientist Matthew Reynolds said of the resilient Mexican wheats his team collected.

Seed breeders say they are the first line of defense protecting farmers from climate change, widely expected to heat the planet between 1 and 3 degrees over the next 50 years.

Intensified drought, together with more intense and unpredictable rainfall, could hit crop yields and bring food shortages and spikes in commodity prices.   Continued...

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