The drought in California has boosted recent interest in plants that can go for long stretches without water. Researchers have been studying how Tortula mosses survive harsh conditions—like the current drought. These mosses, sometimes called “resurrection plants,” can stay dried out for months or even years, and then spring back to life in just moments when the rain returns.
“Deep Look,” the video series from KQED that explores the world through a microscopic lens, met up with researchers at University of California, Berkeley to get a closer look at these mosses—and the tiny animals that live in them.
Before they dry out, the Tortula mosses write themselves a copy of genetic instructions on what to do when the water comes back. These instructions tell the organism how to re-hydrate and repair itself. Researchers hope these special genes might help them create more drought-resistant crops.
“By studying how the moss handles losing water and how it repairs damage, if we can understand those processes, we can look at new ways to improve drought tolerance in crops,” Mel Oliver, a research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri, told KQED.
Mosses aren’t the only organism researchers are studying with the hopes of helping food crops survive dry times. Scientists are also looking at how mycorrhizal fungi help some plants, while others researchers are working to identify less common crops that can already take the heat.
Tortula mosses can stay dried out for months or even years, then spring back to life in just moments when the rain returns.