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Worldwide, drought could be the biggest problem for food production. Historically arid regions in Africa and the Middle East are expanding, and shortages of fresh water are appearing in places, such as the Asia-Pacific rim and Northeast Brazil, that once never doubted their water supplies.

Now, plant researchers are focusing on identifying specific genes that help plants cope with arid conditions. They hope to improve the ability of crop plants to withstand dehydration by transferring in some of the genes they have identified.

The research has had some success, albeit modest, with cotton and tomatoes. Researchers hope to extend the work to the most important cultivated crops: cereal grains.

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Reference: Science 296, 1226 (2002)