Incredible video shows plants ‘breathing’ in close-up detail

It’s breathtaking footage.

An astonishing new video shows plants “breathing” in real-time — and the footage could have huge implications for how farmers feed the world in the future.

The close-up clip was captured by biologists at the University of California San Diego during research funded by the US National Science Foundation.

While filming the flora, the biologists discovered how plants use their stomata — tiny openings commonly known as their “mouths” — to direct their breathing of carbon dioxide.

Knowing how plants use their stomata to open and close in response to changing carbon dioxide levels could allow scientists to produce crops robust enough for a changing environment, according to National Science Foundation spokesperson, Jared Dashoff.

“The researchers hope that harnessing this mechanism could lead to future engineering of plant water use efficiency and carbon intake, critical as atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration continues to increase,” he told South West News Service.

A highly magnified view of a single stoma on the leaf. The stoma is opening and closing in response to changing levels of carbon dioxide and humidity.
Douglas Clark/NSF/SWNS
A magnified view of many plant stomata on the leaf of a Begonia rex cultorum plant.  The width of each stoma is about 80 microns.
A magnified view of many plant stomata on the leaf of a Begonia rex cultorum plant. The width of each stoma is about 80 microns.
Douglas Clark/NSF/SWNS

“When stomata are open, the inside of the plant is exposed to the elements, and water from the plant is lost into the surrounding air, which can dry them out,” Dashoff further explained. “Plants, therefore, must balance the intake of carbon dioxide with water vapor loss by controlling how long the stomata remain open.”

Research leader, Julian Schroeder, added: “The response to changes is critical for plant growth and regulates how efficient the plant can be in using water, which is important as we see increased drought and rising temperatures.”

As the climate changes, both atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and temperature increase, affecting the balance between carbon dioxide entry and water vapor loss through the stomata.

If plants, especially crops like wheat, rice and corn, can’t strike a new balance, they risk drying out, farmers risk losing valuable output, and more people across the world risk going hungry.

The video — filmed during research funded by the US National Science Foundation — could have huge impacts on future farming and food production.
The video — filmed during research funded by the US National Science Foundation — could have huge impacts on future farming and food production.

“Scientists have long understood stomata and the balance between carbon dioxide intake and water loss,” Dashoff stated. “But what they haven’t known, until now, is how plants sense carbon dioxide to signal stomata to open and close in response to changing carbon dioxide levels.”

“Knowing this will now enable researchers to edit those signals — so plants can strike the right balance between taking in carbon dioxide versus losing water — and allow scientists and plant breeders to produce crops robust enough for the environment of the future.”

Dashoff added that the researchers are so excited by their findings that they have now filed a patent and are examining ways to translate their findings into tools for crop breeders and farmers.

Knowing how plants use their stomata to open and close in response to changing carbon dioxide levels could allow scientists to produce crops robust enough for a changing environment.
Knowing how plants use their stomata to open and close in response to changing carbon dioxide levels could allow scientists to produce crops robust enough for a changing environment.
Douglas Clark/NSF/SWNS

Richard Cyr, a National Science Foundation program director, said the findings were nothing short of game-changing.

“Determining how plants control their stomata under changing CO2 levels creates a different kind of opening — one to new avenues of research and possibilities for addressing societal challenges,” he declared.

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