Modern science shows Roman wheat farming advice was on the money—18 April 2018

Australian Research Council (ARC) funded plant biologists have made an important discovery about rising temperatures and wheat crops—and subsequently learned that the Romans suspected the effect more than 2000 years ago.

In research published in the journal Scientific Reports, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology scientists at The University of Western Australia studied what happens when wheat plants cannot get enough oxygen because of flooding.

They found the wheat was more susceptible to damage from flooding as the temperature got warmer—only to later read a Roman farming handbook that hinted at the same effect.

De Agri Cultura, believed to be written by Cato the Elder in 160BC, suggests rainfall can be left on wheat fields through the cold part of winter but will damage the crops if not removed by spring.

Lead researcher and ARC Future Fellow, Dr Shaobai Huang said the study looked at what different types of wheat plants make inside their cells to help them cope with a lack of oxygen.

“We tested the plants at 15°C to 28°C, and we found a dramatic negative impact on how well wheat plants recovered from a lack of oxygen under the higher temperatures,” he said.

“Not only is temperature arguably more important than the type of wheat, but small temperature changes can make a huge difference.

“At 20°C they were fine but at 24°C they suffered really badly.”

Based on this new research, the researchers think they may be able to come up with a breeding solution, having finally, after 2000 years, come to understand the mechanism behind the damage to wheat.

Media issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.


Image: modern science shows Roman wheat farming advice was 'on the money'.
Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Original Published Date: 
Wednesday, April 18, 2018