Brace for the Heat: Research Opportunities for Stress-Resistant Crops

Brace for the Heat: Research Opportunities for Stress-Resistant Crops

By Siwei Zhang

The sight of a maize field stretched endlessly across the horizon in the opening scene of Interstellar may appear surreal; however, it may not be far from reality. Whilst different forecasting models predict different levels of global temperature rise between 2°C and 6°C, it is agreed that our earth will be warmer, and the combined effects of climate changes are putting extensive pressure and making new twists on traditional agriculture industry.

Increased temperature itself may only play a minor part in this process. Usually, plants love temperature increase and tend to grow better when the temperature increases slightly. In crops, this preference of increased temperature can be translated into a slightly better harvest yield – at least in laboratory-controlled experiments. However, the threat to traditional agriculture does not come from increased temperature itself. As global warming progresses, the climate will be different and the patterns of precipitation will change. This will create more droughts, floods, and storms thereby significantly affecting the crop growth and overall output of the agriculture industry. Indeed, several studies using different prediction models produced generally agreeable results that the problems created by global warming and climate changes will generally outweigh the benefits of temperature rise.

Facing such potential problems, there is a clear call for new crop varieties that are more resistant to extreme conditions and weather. In one example, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Philippines has developed a new rice variety that is more tolerant to water flooding than traditional types of rice. This new rice variety has been grown in low-lying parts of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh and been proven successful. However, reports on the research and development of crop varieties with such characteristics are still relatively rare which underlie a potentially unexploited and promising market.

For venture capitalists, biotech start-ups, as well as research establishments, it is now time to consider investing more on developing stress-resistant crop varieties in response to future climate changes and subsequent agriculture issues.


1. World Bank. Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience (World Bank, 2013).

2. Rosenzweig, C. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3268–3273 (2014).

3. Challinor, A. J. et al. Nature Clim. Change 4, 287–291 (2014).

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