According to biologist Victoria Sanchez, the induction of autophagy, a natural mechanism used by living beings to survive adverse situations and stay healthy by recycling nutrients and making more efficient use of them, could be the key to making strawberry crops more resistant to extreme drought. Researchers at the Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture 'La Mayora' (IHSM) in Malaga are testing to see if this is true.
Plants, Sanchez said, often make use of this process due to environmental factors, such as lack of water, nutrients, light, or excess heat, i.e., situations that cause them to be subjected to stress.
The laboratory, which applies induced autophagy to transgenic plants by means of a gene, aims to test if the strawberry plants that have been subjected to this method and a lack of water 'are happier, greener, and more turgid' than plants that haven't been chemically altered.
If the method works, strawberries could better cope with climate change. Moreover, this could lead to more efficient water use and reduce the use of fertilizers, thus decreasing pollution and generating environmental benefits and economic savings for farmers.
The GM plants the lab is using in its research "cannot normally be grown commercially. However, if they achieve this protective effect, one could still apply this knowledge to look for lines that may have a level of natural autophagy and see if that correlates with increased drought resistance."
Sanchez's study, which began in September 2021 as a one-person project of the Ministry of Science and Innovation, expects to obtain definitive results in October 2024.