This Resurrection Plant Comes Back To Life. Could It Do The Same For Food Crops?

If you came across the False Rose of Jericho, you probably wouldn't give it a second look: you'd see a dry brown plant with a mess of tangled roots that looked like its last good days were long behind it. But add a little water, and you'd see an amazing transformation.

The False Rose of Jericho can survive complete desiccation, then returns to normal in the presence of water.

Back to Life

Selaginella lepidophylla, also called a resurrection plant or False Rose of Jericho (the real Rose of Jericho is a different plant, though it has some similar characteristics), hails from the Chihuahuan Desert, and is part of the spikemoss family. This little plant is hiding a jaw-dropping power: after drying up, it can come back to life.

To be clear, the dried-out plant isn't actually dead—it has simply entered a dormant, ametabolic state. During the dry season, it curls inward and can sometimes be uprooted, at which point it blows along the ground like a tumbleweed. Scientists believe the plant is able to survive in this extreme dehydration due to the presence of trehalose, a sugar that can stabilize the plant's proteins and cellular membranes even in extreme conditions. Add a little water, and this plant blooms back to life, its center turning a dark green as it gives off an herbal scent.

Harnessing The Plant's Superpower

But the transformation of the False Rose of Jericho isn't just a parlor trick—scientists think that it may have major implications for things like world hunger. Down the line, it may be able to help feed our planet.

Right now, scientists like Jill Farrant, a biology professor at Cape Town University, are trying to modify the genes of crops so that they can resist droughts in the same way as the False Rose of Jericho. "By figuring out how they turn on these genes in roots and leaves, we can enable the same processes in leaves and roots of crops under drought conditions," Farrant explained to Reuters. In ten years, she hopes to deliver drought-resistant crops that could help the over 800 million people currently suffering from world hunger. Not bad for a little desert plant!

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Written by Stephanie Bucklin May 5, 2017

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