Articles, Blog

Time tunnel tests climate change crops


[Theme music plays] (Glen Paul) G’day, and
welcome to CSIROvod. I’m Glen Paul. Wheat is Australia’s most
valuable grain crop, worth over $5 billion to
the country annually. But what’s going to happen to
that wheat under climate change? Will it just wither and die
as temperatures increase, and there’s more droughts and
increased levels of CO2. Well, I’ve come to Perth in
Western Australia to find out, because it’s here at
the CSIRO Laboratories that they’re creating
a world of tomorrow a world to replicate the
environment of the year 2050, to see if the wheat will be able
to survive in those conditions. Creating such an environment means
considering many variables, which the CSIRO
team had to build into these specially designed
tunnel houses from the ground up. (Sam Henty) The three
factors we’re saying climate change will affect
is an increased temperature, which we replicate with a fan that pulls air though the
tunnels at different speeds, so the slower the air movement through
the tunnel, the increased temperature. Temperature is also
increased from the sun, and it’s able to penetrate
our tunnels via a plastic that is called F-CLEAN
that has been imported from Japan, which basically only
cuts out 1% of light, and allows UV through, so it’s
basically like a flexible glass. The second factor is
increased carbon dioxide, and the way we regulate
this is by injecting carbon dioxide into the tunnels based
on our sensors and a solenoid system. CO2 is drawn from our vessels storage vessels over here and we aim to keep the
carbon dioxide concentration in the tunnels at double what
we’re breathing at the moment, which is about 700
parts per million. The third factor is drought, and the way that
we regulate that is we have an irrigation system which we can isolate different
parts of the tunnel and restrict the
water accordingly. Drought is obviously the
most obvious affect, and you can see in the tunnel the plots that have been affected
by drought at the moment are yellowing. The reason we’re
doing this research is for 50 years’ time, when
potentially climate change could reach these levels, we need to be ready and have plants that will
be able to cope with this situation to feed the
world, and feed you. (Glen Paul) But to
develop types of wheat that might be able to stand
up to climate change you also have to know what’s
going on beneath the soil, which can be difficult without digging
the plant up to look at its roots. (Dr Palta-Paz) To
overcome the problem we developed this
system of root boxes in which we grow the
plants here and allow us to visualise and to quantify in a daily basis what happen when
you grow the roots when exposed to the different
scenarios of climate change. This plant we’re planting
just ten days ago, we can see the growth of the
seminal roots. (Glen Paul) The soil
used in the root boxes comes from where the wheat
is going to be grown, and has to be packed to the same
density to accurately replicate how it might grow in the field. As the roots grow photographs can be
taken and their growth marked out. (Dr Palta-Paz) This
is for two different genotypes of wheat growing
under the same conditions. We can see here that
there is more roots, more branches of the roots,
compared with this. They were planted on the same
day in the same conditions, so this is the same, we can
see big difference in the root systems. And this is what we’re
interested to know, how the different
genotypes respond to the climate change in
relation to their root growth. (Glen Paul) The
task now for CSIRO is to bring all this
information together. (Dr Palta-Paz) We
need this information so we can pass this to breeders to produce new
cultivars of wheat that are more adapted
to the conditions of climate change
in the year 2050. (Glen Paul) Climate change is
real, and it is happening, and if we’re to avoid a
food crisis into the future it’ll be because of
scientists such as Jairo. If you’d like to find out
more about the research visit us online at www.csiro.au.

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