It can grow in dry environments and does not need a lot of water, and it can be used as human food, animal fodder, a source of fuel and a carbon store. These unique properties and others may make the prickly pear plant at the top of the list of agricultural crops to confront climate changes in the future, according to a new study.
The study, published recently in the journal GCB Bioenergy by researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, predicts that this plant may be able to provide fuel and food in places that have not been or will not be able to provide These basic necessities can be sustained sustainably by climate change. Read also Provides food for plants, animals and humans.. American researchers discover a unique type of truffle Reducing the ability of plants to absorb water increases the severity of floods Recent studies: the fate of plants under climate change is linked to fungi They produce oxygen as they poison life..Important information you may not know about phytoplankton
Drought-resistant food and water source
The cactus or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a shrub that averages 1.5 to 3 meters tall. Its branches (plates or “paddles”) are flat and green, the fruits are yellow, red, and purple, and contain small seeds.
The original home of this plant goes back to Mexico, and it is spread today in many countries such as South America and the countries of the Mediterranean basin. Scientists count more than 1,600 varieties of cacti, and the cactus plant can withstand drought and survive with less than 50 millimeters of rain per year, But without growth or production.
The average annual rainfall, which ranges between 100 and 150 millimeters, is the minimum required to succeed in establishing rainfed cactus farms, provided that the soil is sandy and deep. and Palestine.
According to experts of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the prickly pear has the ability to provide food for humans and animals, in addition to being a source of water. In addition to its fruit, which is known for its delicious taste and great benefits, its leaves can be fodder of high nutritional value for animals.
In addition to its nutritional role, the prickly pear stores an important amount of water in its branches (plates), and studies confirm that one hectare of this plant can contain nearly 180 tons of water.
Global climate change models predict that long-term drought events will increase in duration and intensity, resulting in higher temperatures and lower available water levels.
Under these climatic conditions, it is not possible to continue relying on the known basic food sources such as rice, grains and corn, which require large amounts of water and cannot withstand high temperatures.
Also a source of vital energy
In the new 5-year study, researchers from Nevada Nero University demonstrated – according to a press release posted on the university’s website – the possibility of using prickly pear fruits as a raw material capable of producing biofuels and resisting climate changes, as well as providing food for humans and animals.
The results of the study showed that the prickly pear had a higher yield of fruits than corn and sugarcane (the most important crops used for bioenergy production), but at the same time it consumed less than 80% of water, and it tolerated a higher temperature, making it the most resistant crop to drought and changes the climate.
According to the researchers, the cactus fruit is a permanent and versatile bioenergy crop. When it is not harvested for biofuels or food, it acts as a carbon store, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in a sustainable way.
“Approximately 42% of the world’s land area is classified as semi-arid or arid, and there is a huge potential for growing aloe vera to sequester carbon,” says Professor John Cushman, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nevada Reno’s School of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources. .
The researchers hope – according to the statement – to use the prickly pear genes to improve the water-use efficiency of other crops and their resistance to drought, by giving them one of the ways this plant retains water, which is to close its pores during the heat of the day to prevent evaporation and open them at night for breathing.