Cactus scientists set out their stall to solve future global agricultural challenges

Last updated: 2 Jul, 2015

This new Viewpoint article by Yang et al.  published in the latest issue of New Phytologist sets the scene for tackling future agricultural production issues using solutions gained through knowledge of crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). CAM is a specialised type of photosynthesis that results in enhanced plant water-use efficiency. Plants that use CAM are typically found in arid environments and include commonly known plants such as cacti, agave and pineapple, while most present-day food and bioenergy crops, such as rice, corn, poplar, switchgrass and sugarcane, all use the more common C3 and C4 photosynthesis.

The CAM roadmap. Fig. 6 from Yang et al. (2015)

Figure 6 from Yang et al. Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) research roadmap. (a) Genetic diversity and evolution of CAM. (b) CAM systems biology with a focus on genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, building image © mayrum, antenna image © 2008 angelhell, molecule images from, Opuntia image © 2011 li jingwang, pineapple image © 2014 Denyshuter. (c) Data management and analysis, building image © 2011 chuvipro, network image © 2014 aleksandarvelasevic. (d) CAM engineering, building image © 2014 bilgic. (e) C3 or C4 crops engineered with CAM for improvement in water-use efficiency and drought tolerance, cotton image © 2010 EIFIacodelNorte, poplar image © 2008 DNT59. (f) CAM crop production, Agave image © Noradoa, pineapple image © 2011 sybil, Opuntia image © 2012 Pgiam; and (g) CAM plant germplasm collection, glasshouse image © 2011 VLADGRIN, people images © Rawpixel, Agave images © 2009 Magnolja.


Future challenges to society include a growing population and a changing climate. Viable solutions for increasing agricultural production in the future include either developing CAM crops as new sources for food and bioenergy, or engineering non-CAM crops to use CAM strategies to improve their water-use efficiency and yield. The paper discusses strategies for tackling agricultural issues through CAM, highlights the key research questions that need to be addressed, and provides a framework for achieving success in the near future.


To find out more about this new ‘Viewpoint’ article type, see the Editorial by Alistair Hetherington (Editor-in-Chief, New Phytologist) and Sarah Lennon (Managing Editor, New Phytologist) in the latest issue of New Phytologist.


Originally published 8 July 2015.