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British researchers have taken a small but significant step towards the creation of more stress-tolerant crops by genetically engineering a variety of Arabidopsis in a way that improves its ability to withstand high temperatures and bright sunlight.

If applied to crops in developing countries that can be damaged by high levels of light, it could allow such modified crops to be planted at higher altitudes than at present, for example.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have produced a strain of Arabidopsis thaliana — otherwise known as thale cress — in a way that allows it to build up the chemical zeaxinthin, which helps to protect plants by preventing oxidative damage to cells.

According to the researchers, who report their findings in the latest edition of Nature, the modified plants are more tolerant to conditions of high light and temperature.

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