Science: Beat the Heat

By Victoria Schlesinger

Photo by Antonie Van Den Bos

Soy isn’t only useful as a dairy alternative and biofuel—the hairy plants might also help combat global warming. Researchers studying vegetation that produces abundant leaf hairs, making the plants bright and therefore good at reflecting sunlight, say the trait could reduce local temperatures and help crops survive as global temperatures rise.

University of California, Irvine grad student Chris Doughty found that soybeans bred to have four times the normal number of leaf hairs reflect up to 5 percent of sunlight, preventing the earth from absorbing that light as heat. As a result, air temperature drops on average by 1.85°C—a change big enough to stem crop loss as the planet heats up. “This was really just a thought experiment,” says Doughty. “But we do think it may be prudent for seed companies to try and breed brighter crops in case of a very hot future.”

Issue 25

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