Purslane is a ‘SUPER PLANT’ that holds the key to drought-resistant crops, scientists say

Purslane can be a nightmare for hobby gardeners, but a new study may make you think twice about getting rid of the weed.

After all, it is not a plague! Garden weed purslane is a “SUPER PLANT” that holds the key to drought-resistant crops, scientists claim.

  • Purslane is a common weed that many people struggle with in their gardens
  • The plant is able to withstand drought while remaining highly productive
  • In a new study, researchers found that the plant integrates two different metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis.

Purslane can be a nightmare for hobby gardeners, but a new study may make you think twice about getting rid of the weed.

Yale researchers say purslane may be a “super plant” that holds the key to drought-resistant crops.

In their study, the researchers found that the plant integrates two different metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis.

This allows the weed to withstand drought while still being highly productive.

“This is a very rare combination of traits and has created a kind of ‘super plant’ – one that could be useful in endeavors such as crop engineering,” said Professor Erika Edwards, lead author of the study.

Purslane can be a nightmare for hobby gardeners, but a new study may make you think twice about getting rid of the weed.

What is purslane?

Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is an edible, leafy, frost-tender plant widely used as an herb and salad vegetable.

The fleshy reddish stems are densely covered with lobed leaves that are green or gold, depending on the variety, and grow up to 15-20 cm tall.

Purslane grows quickly from seed and the leaves are ready to harvest in 6-8 weeks.

Source: Gardeners World

Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants use sunlight to synthesize nutrients from carbon dioxide and water.

Over time, different species have independently developed a number of different mechanisms to enhance this process.

For example, corn and sugarcane have developed ‘C4 photosynthesis’, which allows them to remain productive at high temperatures.

Meanwhile, cacti and agaves have developed “CAM photosynthesis,” which allows them to thrive in areas with little water.

Although C4 and CAM serve different functions, they both use the same biochemical pathway to act as “add-ons” to basic photosynthesis.

Previous studies have shown that purslane possesses C4 and CAM adaptations, which allows the plant to be productive and tolerant during droughts.

However, until now, C4 and CAM were believed to function independently within leaves.

In their new study, the researchers showed that C4 and CAM activity are fully integrated in purslane.

In their study, the researchers found that the plant integrates two different metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis.  This allows the weed to withstand drought while still being highly productive

In their study, the researchers found that the plant integrates two different metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis. This allows the weed to withstand drought while still being highly productive

The researchers studied gene expression in purslane leaves and found that C4 and CAM operate in the same cells, and the products of CAM reactions are processed directly in the C4 pathway.

The researchers hope the findings could help pave the way for drought-resistant crops in the future.

“In terms of engineering a CAM cycle in a C4 crop, like maize, there is still a lot of work to be done before this can become a reality,” Professor Edwards explained.

“But what we have shown is that the two pathways can be efficiently integrated and share products.

“C4 and CAM are more compatible than we thought, which leads us to suspect that there are many more C4+CAM species out there, waiting to be discovered.”

The study comes as parts of the UK experience the driest conditions since the 1976 drought.

Worryingly, the Met Office has warned of “very little significant rain” on the horizon, with conditions now so extreme that a hose ban affecting a million people in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will come into effect at 5pm today in the afternoon.

The Met Office says it is still too early to tell how long the hot spell will last.

However, he says that “there are signs of a return to more volatile conditions from about mid-August”.

HOW DOES PHOTOSYNTHESIS WORK?

Photosynthesis is a chemical process used by plants to convert light energy and carbon dioxide into glucose for the plant to grow, releasing oxygen in the process.

The leaves of green plants contain hundreds of pigment molecules (chlorophyll and others) that absorb light at specific wavelengths.

When light of the right wavelength hits one of these molecules, the molecule enters an excited state, and the energy from that excited state is transferred along a chain of pigment molecules until it reaches a specific type of chlorophyll in the photosynthetic reaction center.

Here, the energy is used to drive the charge separation process necessary for photosynthesis to continue.

The remaining electron “hole” in the chlorophyll molecule is used to “split” water into oxygen.

The hydrogen ions formed during the water splitting process are ultimately used to convert carbon dioxide into glucose energy, which the plant used to grow.

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