Researchers have made a breakthrough by identifying an "exquisite" natural mechanism to develop water-efficient crops that can withstand extreme weather events.
In a study published on Tuesday, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) and James Cook University (JCU) discovered the mechanism that helps plants limit their water loss.
The system, which is activated when the environment is dry, allows a plant to reduce water loss from their pores while maintaining carbon dioxide (CO2) intake.
Researchers are optimistic that the mechanism can be manipulated to develop more resilient crops, giving them a better chance of surviving extreme weather events including droughts.
Chin Wong, the lead author of the study, described the findings as a "dream discovery".
"The agriculture industry has long held high hopes for scientists to come up with a way to deliver highly productive crops that use water efficiently," he said in a media release, adding that plant scientists have been dealing with this big question of how to increase CO2 uptake and reduce water loss without negatively affecting yields.
"Having this mechanism that can reduce water loss with little effect on CO2 uptake presents an opportunity for agricultural scientists and plant breeders researching ways to improve water use efficiency and create drought-tolerant crops."
While the researchers have discovered the mechanism, they do not yet understand what causes it.
Diego Marquez, co-author of the study, said the next step for the team is identifying structures inside plants that control the mechanism.
"We think that water conduits, called aquaporins, located in the cell membranes are responsible," Marquez said.
"Once we're able to confirm this, we can then start thinking about how we can manipulate these systems and turn them into an asset for the agricultural industry."