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Could alcohol help your plants survive a drought?

Published: August 25, 2022 at 8:59 am

Scientists in Japan have shown that plants have a surprising reaction to ethanol

A Japanese study has shown that plants have a surprising reaction to alcohol, making them more tolerant to heat stress.


As the climate gets hotter, scientists have been turning their attention to how we can protect plants from heat stress. The study, published in the journal Plant Molecular Biology, showed that treating Arabidopsis with a low concentration of ethanol made the plant more tolerant to heat, without suppressing the plant growth. Similar results were shown in lettuce.

It is hoped that the results of the study might help industrial farmers protect their crops from the increasing temperatures.

Ethanol helps to keep the pores in plant leaves (the stomata) closed, thereby reducing the amount of water loss.

A selection of plants were grown in usual conditions for two weeks, regularly watered, before the water was reduced. Ethanol was then used on the soil of half of the plants for three days, while the rest were left.

It was also shown that genes designed to protect the plant from drought became active when ethanol was detected in the roots.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Motoaki Seki, told the Telegraph “We find that treating common crops such as wheat and rice with exogenous ethanol can increase crop production during drought...This is likely via changes in the metabolomic and transcriptomic profiles that regulate the drought-stress response.”


Head to our piece on how to adapt to gardening in a drought.


Daisy Bowie-Sell is digital editor of Gardens Illustrated. She has previously worked as a journalist for publications including the Daily Telegraph, WhatsOnStage and Time Out London


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