The corpse flower, pictured above, has an interesting natural defense - it wards off predators with the smell of rotting flesh.
Agricultural technology has spent the last few decades focusing on how to maximize yield while minimizing crop inputs, and it’s taken the field to some interesting places. We have largely wound up with an agricultural system that relies on genetically modifying crops so that they can withstand high amounts of pesticides to keep bugs and parasites away.
According to a report from CS Monitor, however, bioengineers are beginning to look back to nature for inspiration. Plants in the wild employ their own natural defenses to ward off predators, and researchers want to figure out how to apply this on an industrial scale.
The main defensive tools of plants include thorns, barbs, scents and nectars that either ward off pests or attract the animals that like to eat these pests. Plants like this, however, have been shoved out of the agricultural system because of their taste, appearance, rate of growth, and ability to keep for extended periods of time.
With human-ready crops sitting out in the open, beetles and caterpillars move in to feast on entire fields’ worth of food. Growing concern about the chemicals used to artificially ward these insects away has led researchers to look for a more natural route.
The recent study, published in the journal Trends in Plant Science, argues that “rewilding” crop plants could help bring back some of their natural defenses. By weaning crops off of harmful pesticides, they can begin to adapt to an environment where they may have to work a bit harder to fight off pests.
Researchers are particularly interested in the odors some plants release and the interactions that result. For example, when a rose falls under attack by aphids, it releases an odor that attracts aphids’ natural predators, ladybugs. Even by placing plants with this capability in between normal crop plants, farmers will notices pests becoming significantly less of a problem.
The new study is a great step forward for the growing field of sustainable agriculture, and might even replace roundup ready corn someday.