Facebook PixelCan we re-engineer (reverse) plant physiology so that they capture water through the leaves and transpire it out through the roots?
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Can we re-engineer (reverse) plant physiology so that they capture water through the leaves and transpire it out through the roots?

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Shireesh Apte
Shireesh Apte May 08, 2022
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Could we re-engineer (reverse) plant physiology so that they absorb water through the leaves and transpire it out through the roots?
This would be 'natural' atmospheric water capture with the potential to turn arid land into fertile land, slow desertification, and raise the drinking water table.
Creative contributions

One possible approach: Orchids + root exudation

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain May 10, 2022
The idea to reverse-engineer the plant system as a whole is fascinating to think about. But it would be extremely difficult to do so because the entire plant system has evolved around the phenomenon of absorbing water via roots and transpiring out from the leaves. Few exceptions like orchids exist, but they also don’t transpire the water out of the roots, they absorb it with their leaves and stems and use water for normal physiological processes as all other plants do.
Orchids, more specifically vascular epiphytes have anatomical and morphological adaptations in the leaves, stems and roots that allow them to absorb water from the environment independent of direct contact with the soil. They have thickened cuticles, stomata surrounded by trichomes, sympodial growth (axial branching), and aerial root development to meet this feat. Other features like succulent leaves and the growth of pseudobulbs also make orchids better adapted for water intake from the existing moisture . Hence, we can exploit the anatomical and morphological features of the orchids to develop plants that can soak up water from the environment. However, this is only half the job done. Can we, as asked in the session, engineer the plants to release water into the soil? Actually, there is a plant physiological process of ‘exudation’ that we can look into if we want to make plants expel stuff from their roots. Root exudation is the process that allows carbon transport to roots and the movement of solutes and molecules from roots to the soil. Exudation is thought to play a key role in maintaining the root microbiome of the plants and hence maintaining their relationship with the environment. This occurs at the tips of the roots. This involves a turgor pressure-driven unloading from the phloem, that occurs through plasmodesmata, and it involves mass flow and diffusion. Low-molecular-weight solutes and proteins are released from the phloem-pole pericycle (the area of the root tip). While proteins are released in discrete pulses, low weight solutes are released without any restrictions . Theoretically, developing a plant system that takes up water from the air and releases it into the soil should therefore be possible. As a starting principle, we can use the following framework: First, borrow the physiological and anatomical signature of water uptake from the epiphytes. ENgineer it into a new plant system to copy the orchids.
Engineer the ‘root exudation’ process to selectively discharge water from the roots. For this very tight metabolic regulation would be required because too much loss of water will simply kill the plant.



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Some plants water themselves by adsorbing fog and condensing it into droplets

Darko Savic
Darko Savic May 09, 2022
Some plant species water themselves by adsorbing fog on their "leaves" and condensing it into droplets that then drip down to its roots.
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain2 years ago
Orchids are the pioneers of this phenomenon. They can live with virtually zero irrigation, directly absorbing moisture from the air as compared to other plants that depend on their roots.
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Shireesh Apte
Shireesh Apte2 years ago
Thank you, was not aware of this. will look it up.
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General comments

Michaela D
Michaela D2 years ago
This can have many applications. However, it may be challenging to use it to return water to arid land. The reason is that arid land is characterized by very little rainfall and low humidity. So, there is very little water in the atmosphere to bring back to the land. Especially, in large enough quantities to restore vegetation. It may be more feasible to do it on a smaller scale, let's say a garden that would need very little irrigation.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic2 years ago
Good one 👍. Also, mention the challenge here, it seems like a good contender for the bounty
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