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Developing naturally stress-resistant crops for a sustainable agriculture

Nature Plantsvolume 4pages989996 (2018) | Download Citation


A major problem facing humanity is that our numbers are growing but the availability of land and fresh water for agriculture is not. This problem is being exacerbated by climate change-induced increases in drought, and other abiotic stresses. Stress-resistant crops are needed to ensure yield stability under stress conditions and to minimize the environmental impacts of crop production. Evolution has created thousands of species of naturally stress-resistant plants (NSRPs), some of which have already been subjected to human domestication and are considered minor crops. Broader cultivation of these minor crops will diversify plant agriculture and the human diet, and will therefore help improve global food security and human health. More research should be directed toward understanding and utilizing NSRPs. Technologies are now available that will enable researchers to rapidly improve the genetics of NSRPs, with the goal of increasing NSRP productivity while retaining NSRP stress resistance and nutritional value.

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We would like to thank H. Zhang and R. Bressan for careful reading and editing of the manuscript. Research funding was provided by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to J.K.Z. and by Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB27040108), Shanghai Science and Technology Committee (17391900200), Youth Innovation Promotion Association of CAS (2014242), National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0503200) and CAS to H.Z.

Author information


  1. Shanghai Center for Plant Stress Biology, Center for Excellence in Molecular Plant Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China

    • Heng Zhang
    •  & Jian-Kang Zhu
  2. National Key Laboratory of Plant Molecular Genetics, Center for Excellence in Molecular Plant Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China

    • Heng Zhang
  3. Key Laboratory of Plant Stress Research, Shandong Normal University, Jinan, Shandong, China

    • Yuanyuan Li
  4. Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

    • Jian-Kang Zhu


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H.Z. and J.K.Z. wrote the paper; H.Z. and Y.L. analysed data.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Heng Zhang or Jian-Kang Zhu.

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