SYDNEY, April 18 (Xinhua) -- While studying the effects of flooding on wheat crops, the University of Western Australia's Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy and Biology discovered something very peculiar.
Their research published Wednesday found the wheat was more susceptible to damage from flooding in warmer temperatures, something ancient Roman farmers apparently already knew.
Back in 160 B.C., a text named De Agri Cultura was written by a man named Cato the Elder.
He pointed out that although rainfall can be left on wheat fields through the colder winter months it must be removed by spring.
"We tested the plants at 15°C to 28°C, and we found a dramatic negative impact on how well wheat plants recovered from a lack of oxygen under the higher temperatures," lead researcher Dr. Huang Shaobai said.
"Not only is temperature arguably more important than the type of wheat, but small temperature changes can make a huge difference."
"At 20°C they were fine but at 24°C they suffered really badly."
The findings of the study are particularly important when it comes to rising temperatures resulting from climate change.
Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy and Biology director Prof. Harvey Millar said as well as delivering hotter temperatures, climate change will also increase the risk of more flooding events, a major concern for the food security of future generations.
"This research shows that we don't need temperatures to rise at the hottest part of the year to have a big impact on our crops," he said.
"It might just be the difference between having a cool spring or a warm spring."
"The Romans knew the problem but they didn't have any way to try and find a solution, other than to drain the field," he said.
But because today's modern scientists understand a lot more about the role amino acids play in how plants respond to a lack of oxygen when they are flooded, Millar believes "we may be able to come up with a breeding solution, because after 2000 years we finally understand the mechanism behind the damage to wheat."