Researchers, including plant researchers from the University of Copenhagen, have developed a new type of the corn-like crop sorghum, which may become very significant for food supplies in drought-prone areas.
Unlike the conventional drought-resistant sorghum plant, which is an important crop in e.g. Africa, China and the USA, this new type does not form toxic cyanide when exposed to long-term drought. Consequently, farmers in drought areas will no longer need to discard their sorghum crops in future.
Sorghum, or durra, is an important forage crop in many countries, for example the USA, Africa, China and Australia.
The plant is grown instead of corn because it produces more biomass and better withstands long periods of drought.
However, when exposed to drought, the sorghum plant produces large amounts of dhurrin, which forms toxic cyanide, i.e. Prussic acid.
Farmers thus face a big dilemma. During a period of drought when they most need food for their animals, they are often forced to discard their sorghum because they do not know how poisonous it is and how much the animals can eat without suffering from cyanide poisoning.
In Australia alone, farmers lose hundreds of millions of dollars each year as a result:
“The fact that the sorghum plant produces large amounts of the natural cyanogenic glycoside dhurrin when exposed to drought is a serious problem for farmers in many parts of the world. Dhurrin breaks down to form toxic cyanide or Prussic acid when an animal eats the plant. So when there is a drought and most need for forage, the farmer can no longer use the crop and it goes to waste,” says Professor of Plant Biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen, Birger Lindberg Møller .
New, toxic-free sorghum strain is a breakthrough
Recently, Birger Lindberg Møller and his research group have, in collaboration with, for example, Monash University in Australia, developed a sorghum plant which is unable to produce Prussic acid.