Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Long-term study finds organic farming leads to adaptations in the genetic material in plants

13 May 2024. Long-term study finds organic farming leads to adaptations in the genetic material in plants

At the end of the 1990s, Prof. Dr. Jens Léon started an experiment at the University of Bonn that he knew would run for a long period of time. His research group wanted to investigate the effects that farming conditions have on genetic material in plants.

To this end, they carried out a complex long-term study over a period of 23 years at the Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation (INRES). 
"We first crossed high-yield barley with a wild form to increase genetic variation," says Léon. "We then planted these populations on two neighboring fields so that the barley grew in the same soil and under the same climatic conditions."
The only difference was the farming method. Conventional farming was used in one of the fields where the researchers used pesticides to combat pests, chemical agents to eliminate weeds and mineral fertilizers to help ensure a good supply of nutrients.
The variability of the environmental forces acting on the plants seems to lead to greater genetic heterogeneity. "As a result, the plants are better able to adapt to these types of changes. Overall, the results demonstrate the importance of cultivating varieties optimized for organic farming. As their genetic makeup has adapted to these conditions, they will be more robust and deliver higher yields. Furthermore, it seems to make sense when cultivating plants to cross breed them with older or even wild varieties. Our data also indicate that this could even benefit conventional high-yield varieties.

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