Halophytes can help in reducing transpirational water loss: Dr Sergey

KARACHI: The halophytes have a remarkable ability to reduce transpirational water loss through sensitive stomata and an efficient carbon dioxide assimilation mechanism.

Halophytes use sodium ions as signals for stomatal regulation and are highly adapted to complete their life cycle under saline conditions.

These views were expressed by Professor Dr Sergey Shabala of the University of Tasmania (Australia). He was delivering the online lecture on the adaptation of halophytes, enabling them to endure highly saline conditions which can kill most other plants including crops, during the first day of the three-day online conference entitled “International Virtual Conference on Ecophysiology and Sustainable Use of Cash Crop Halophytes – A Tribute to Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan” which was held at the Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization University of Karachi on Tuesday.

Another speaker, Professor Tim Flowers from the University of Sussex (United Kingdom) delivered a lecture on an online database of halophytic plants called eHaloph (http: //www.sussex.ac.uk/affiliates/halophytes/).

He informed the participants that this searchable database contains useful information about diversity, adaptations, distribution, potential uses, and scientific literature about the halophytes.

“This is an open-access database and at present includes information about 1, 280 halophytic species belonging to 123 plant families. Information contained in this database can help breed programs and select germplasms for various restoration or agronomic ventures.”

Meanwhile, Professor Dr Mark Tester from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Saudi Arabia) highlighted the importance of halophyte research for improving stress tolerance of conventional crops.

He expressed that the research on halophytes and wild stress-tolerant plants may unveil genes enabling them to tolerate high salinity and this information can be incorporated in the sensitive crop plants through breeding and/or modern molecular techniques.

He mentioned that modern genetic tools can be used to transform wild halophytic plants into ‘new’ crops.

Earlier, the Director KU’s MAK-ISHU Professor Dr Bilquees Gul welcomed and briefed the participants about the aims of the conference. She informed the participants that the conference is about the ecophysiology and sustainable use of cash crop halophytes and is dedicated to late Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan, the founder of the KU’s MAK-ISHU and the former vice chancellor of the University of Karachi.

She said that most crops are sensitive to environmental stresses such as salinity and drought, due to which conventional agriculture’ is under increasing pressure. She observed that the utilization of halophytes, the natural flora of saline habitats, as ‘non-conventional crops’ for food, fodder, and other uses appears a sustainable option to ensure food security in the future.

Professor Dr Gul shared that the latest information on plant ecophysiology, promising sustainable technologies, and the role of halophytes to combat global challenges with special insights into the development of salt resistance fodder/ forage crops, energy feedstocks, and other industrial products will also be discussed during the three-day long international event.

The Chief of Natural Sciences at UNESCO Bangkok Dr Benno Boer during the inaugural speech informed the participants about his long friendship and collaboration with Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal.

Dr Boer mentioned that he had started his work on halophyte ecology in 1989 but Professor Dr Ajmal was already working on halophyte ecophysiology for many years at that time.

“We collaborated on many projects and developed a renowned book series entitled “Sabkha Ecosystems of the World”, which is considered an important reference work on halophytes and sabkha ecosystems. Professor Ajmal’s contributions to halophyte biology and utilization are unforgettable.”

He said that Professor Dr Ajmal has not witnessed the Covid-19 pandemic but Covid-19 has shocked all of us to realize something that Dr Ajmal knew a long time ago.

He mentioned that we were sitting in the same boat, as we all suffer from climate change and environmental degradation and to deal with these problems, science is essential. Dr Benno also commended MAK-ISHU for arranging the online conference as a tribute to Professor Dr Ajmal Khan.

Meanwhile, many other researchers including Dr Xiajing Liu from China and Dr Vadim Volkov of Russia also presented their research on halophyte ecophysiology and utilization during the first day of this three-day conference. A large number of students, faculty, and researchers attended the online event.