Israeli researchers engineer drought resistant plants that could be a game-changer in the global food crisis, requiring less water, yielding bigger harvests, and staying fresh longer.  

Professor of Biology Shimon Gepstein of Haifa’s Technion University pioneered research that may represent a major advance in food supplies worldwide. According to Technion University’s Oracle website, “Gepstein discovered this feature of his genetically modified plants by sheer chance, when he forgot to water them for a few weeks.” Gepstein described the new strains as follows, “The vegetables and fruits now last double and sometimes three times more after they are cut if they come from the genetically modified plants. I took a modified lettuce home and it took 21 days for it to start getting brown, whereas normal lettuces go bad in five or six days.”

Referred to by researchers as “superplants,” these genetically-modified plants not only sustain production of the zytokinin hormone, which prevents aging and facilitates continued photosynthesis, they require less water to grow. “These plants can survive droughts, they can go on for a month without water and even if you water them, they only need 30 percent the amount of liquid normal plants do,” said Gepstein.

Since superplants live longer, they yield bigger harvests, which may assist innumerable countries currently suffering from water shortages. With the most severe food crises in modern history caused by drought or other extreme weather events, superplants may represent an end to drought-induced food shortages, which remain a major problem internationally.

According to the World Food Program, “Natural disasters such as floods, tropical storms and long periods of drought are on the increase — with calamitous consequences for food security in poor, developing countries. Drought is now the single most common cause of food shortages in the world. In 2011, recurrent drought caused crop failures and heavy livestock losses in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. In many countries, climate change is exacerbating already adverse natural conditions.”

Geptstein said of the superplants, “We found out that after a month of not getting any water they were as good as when they do get it, so we could take their seeds to arid zones or areas where there is severe drought risks and feed the population with them. Despite all the bad the word ‘genetically modified’ has, I can tell our plants are not dangerous for human health, because we have altered them using their own components, they have nothing added to them.”

Professor Gepstein published his research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the United States’ most prestigous scientific journals.

By Rachel Avraham & Eitan Press, staff writers for United With Israel