Study shows cactus pear as drought-tolerant crop for sustainable fuel and food


Among three cactus varieties researched by the University of Nevada, Reno as drought-tolerant crops for biofuel, Opuntia ficus-indica produced probably the most fruit whereas utilizing as much as 80% much less water than some conventional crops. Credit: John Cushman, University of Nevada, Reno.

Could cactus pear grow to be a serious crop like soybeans and corn within the close to future, and assist present a biofuel supply, as properly as a sustainable food and forage crop? According to a just lately revealed research, researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno imagine the plant, with its excessive warmth tolerance and low water use, could possibly present fuel and food in locations that beforehand have not been in a position to develop a lot in the way in which of sustainable crops.

Global local weather change fashions predict that long-term drought occasions will improve in length and depth, leading to each larger temperatures and decrease ranges of obtainable water. Many crops, such as rice, corn and soybeans, have an higher temperature restrict, and different conventional crops, such as alfalfa, require extra water than what may be obtainable sooner or later.

“Dry areas are going to get dryer because of climate change,” Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Professor John Cushman, with the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources, stated. “Ultimately, we’re going to see more and more of these drought issues affecting crops such as corn and soybeans in the future.”

Fueling renewable vitality

As a part of the College’s Experiment Station unit, Cushman and his staff just lately revealed the outcomes of a five-year research on the usage of spineless cactus pear as a high-temperature, low-water industrial crop. The research, funded by the Experiment Station and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, was the primary long-term area trial of Opuntia species within the U.S. as a scalable bioenergy feedstock to switch fossil fuel.

Results of the research, which befell on the Experiment Station’s Southern Nevada Field Lab in Logandale, Nevada, confirmed that Opuntia ficus-indica had the very best fruit manufacturing whereas utilizing as much as 80% much less water than some conventional crops. Co-authors included Carol Bishop, with the College’s Extension unit, postdoctoral analysis scholar Dhurba Neupane, and graduate college students Nicholas Alexander Niechayev and Jesse Mayer.

“Maize and sugar cane are the major bioenergy crops right now, but use three to six times more water than cactus pear,” Cushman stated. “This study showed that cactus pear productivity is on par with these important bioenergy crops, but use a fraction of the water and have a higher heat tolerance, which makes them a much more climate-resilient crop.”

Cactus pear works properly as a bioenergy crop as a result of it’s a versatile perennial crop. When it isn’t being harvested for biofuel, then it really works as a land-based carbon sink, eradicating carbon dioxide from the ambiance and storing it in a sustainable method.

“Approximately 42% of land area around the world is classified as semi-arid or arid,” Cushman stated. “There is enormous potential for planting cactus trees for carbon sequestration. We can start growing cactus pear crops in abandoned areas that are marginal and may not be suitable for other crops, thereby expanding the area being used for bioenergy production.”

Fueling folks and animals

The crop can be used for human consumption and livestock feed. Cactus pear is already utilized in many semi-arid areas all over the world for food and forage because of its low-water wants in contrast with extra conventional crops. The fruit can be utilized for jams and jellies because of its excessive sugar content material, and the pads are eaten each contemporary and as a canned vegetable. Because the plant’s pads are made from 90% water, the crop works nice for livestock feed as properly.

“That’s the benefit of this perennial crop,” Cushman defined. “You’ve harvested the fruit and the pads for food, then you have this large amount of biomass sitting on the land that is sequestering carbon and can be used for biofuel production.”

Cushman additionally hopes to make use of cactus pear genes to enhance the water-use effectivity of different crops. One of the methods cactus pear retains water is by closing its pores in the course of the warmth of day to stop evaporation and opening them at evening to breathe. Cushman needs to take the cactus pear genes that permit it to do that, and add them to the genetic make-up of different vegetation to extend their drought tolerance.

Bishop, Extension educator for Northeast Clark County, and her staff, which incorporates Moapa Valley High School college students, proceed to assist keep and harvest the greater than 250 cactus pear vegetation nonetheless grown on the area lab in Logandale. In addition, in the course of the research, the scholars gained useful expertise serving to to unfold consciousness concerning the undertaking, its objectives, and the plant’s potential advantages and makes use of. They produced movies, papers, brochures and recipes; gave excursions of the sector lab; and held courses, together with harvesting and cooking courses.

Fueling additional analysis

In 2019, Cushman started a brand new analysis undertaking with cactus pear on the U.S. Department of Agriculture—Agricultural Research Service’ National Arid Land Plant Genetic Resources Unit in Parlier, California. In addition to persevering with to take measurements of how a lot the cactus crop will produce, Cushman’s staff, in collaboration with Claire Heinitz, curator on the unit, is which accessions, or distinctive samples of plant tissue or seeds with completely different genetic traits, present the best manufacturing and optimize the crop’s rising situations.

“We want a spineless cactus pear that will grow fast and produce a lot of biomass,” Cushman stated.

One of the opposite objectives of the undertaking is to study extra about Opuntia stunting illness, which causes cactuses to develop smaller pads and fruit. The staff is taking samples from the contaminated vegetation to take a look at the DNA and RNA to seek out what causes the illness and how it’s transferred to different cactuses within the area. The hope is to make use of the knowledge to create a diagnostic software and therapy to detect and stop the illness’s unfold and to salvage usable components from diseased vegetation.

UN dishes up prickly pear cactus in reply to food safety

More data:
Dhurba Neupane et al, Five‐12 months area trial of the biomass productiveness and water enter response of cactus pear ( Opuntia spp.) as a bioenergy feedstock for arid lands, GCB Bioenergy (2021). DOI: 10.1111/gcbb.12805

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University of Nevada, Reno

Study shows cactus pear as drought-tolerant crop for sustainable fuel and food (2021, March 5)
retrieved 5 March 2021

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