Wheat absorbs phosphorus from desert dust

WHEAT WAS among the first plants to be domesticated and is now the most widespread crop in the world. It thus sounds unlikely there would be much left to learn about what makes it thrive. Yet, some 12,000 years after relations between people and wheat began, a wheat plant has been caught doing something unexpected. It helped itself to a dose of much-needed phosphorus when its leaves received a coating of desert dust.

The plant (or, rather, plants) in question were in the care of Avner Gross of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel. As Dr Gross told this year’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which took place online during the first half of December, his study was prompted by hikes he had taken near Neve Shalom, his home village in the Judean Hills. On these, he often noticed plant leaves completely covered in dust that had been carried there by sand storms from the Sahara desert.

It occurred to him…

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