Searching for lettuce that can withstand climate change

CC BY 2.0 Flickr user PhotoFarmer

The impact that climate change will have on crop yields is often discouraging. We've already seen rice production drop as temperatures rise in Asia and droughts negatively impact vanilla plants. One study found that it only takes an uptick in one degree to cut Kansas' wheat production by 20 percent.

Lettuce is another plant that's unlikely to thrive in a hotter climate, and is ideally grown at temperatures below 85 degree fahrenheit. That's why Beiquan Mou, a researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is trying to grow lettuce in El Centro, California where temperatures often rise above 100 degrees. Julia Scott reports for Modern Farmer:

"Since 2010, Mou has been on an epic quest for the world’s most heat-tolerant lettuces. Backed by a three-year federal grant, part of a $38 million effort to cope with climate change, he has growtested more than 3,500 varieties of lettuce and spinach in a heat chamber laboratory, exposing them to scorching temperatures and recording the results. The goal: Identify the hardiest species, and isolate their survival genes.

Someday, hopefully, the winners of this gladiatorial death match will wind up on salad plates. The lettuce of the future may look and taste the same, but thanks to the research Mou has begun, its DNA will contain a heat-resistant gene to help farmers cultivate it pretty much anywhere — even the desert."

Read the full story here.
Another organization that's working to find "climate proof" crops is the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which has developed a seed bank with the aim of preserving as much crop diversity as possible.

Searching for lettuce that can withstand climate change
More than an awesome source of vitamins and fiber, this super food will thrive in hotter, drier weather.