Yet even if drought tolerance hasn’t been a central commercial priority, it hasn’t been ignored. As Keaschall noted, Pioneer has worked on it since 1977, and so have hundreds of academic scientists. A more fundamental problem is sheer biological intractability.The "we don't have to do anything about AGW, it will be good for agriculture" crowd should take note. (They won't. They are selectively stupid.)
Unlike pest or herbicide resistance, drought tolerance doesn’t come from a few easily added genes. It’s the result of complex traits involving hundreds of genes, their activity difficult to orchestrate. “Drought is not going to be a single-gene solution,” said Keaschall.
Even when the genetics can be grasped, they’re often antithetical to farmers’ aims. A slow-growing plant with tiny leaves that shutters its metabolism in the absence of rain would do fine during a drought, but for farmers it’d be slightly more useful than a cactus.
Indeed, inasmuch as high productivity is required of drought-resistant corn, the limitations of genetics may be inescapable. “If you add it all up, what it says to me is that there are limitations to what you can do in a plant like corn,” said Gurian-Sherman.
That makes non-genetic approaches, such as using cover crops to manage soil characteristics and fine-tuning planting times, all the more important. But those methods are knowledge-based, and it’s much harder to monetize knowledge than genes.
Friday, August 10, 2012
Corn won't grow without water
Wired has an article about the limitations on what can be done to make corn drought resistant: