The new science of bioengineering has already created many marvels. These include food plants that are resistant to insects, thus needing less toxic pesticides, rice that helps cure river blindness, crops with yields hitherto unimaginable in nature. Science seems to be on the verge of a new innovation that will change the way people live forever. It is grass that doesn’t need mowing.
It sounds like an old sixties joke about a certain recreational pharmaceutical. But it actually means that in the near future, suburban homeowners will have lush, green lawns that rarely if ever need to be mowed. More important, plants such as rice, soy beans, wheat, and corn will be sturdier and have greater yields.
Scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute may have accomplished this feat by mapping a hormone signaling pathway that regulates the size of plants, according to a recent paper in the journal Nature. Scientists believe that soon we shall be able to manipulate this pathway to precisely regulate the growth and size of plants, a long standing goal in agriculture.
Scientists found that the hormone called brassinosteroid can be found in virtually all plant cells. Without this hormone, plants would be tiny and infertile. The more a plant has, the larger it tends to grow. They also regulate aging in plants. Since brassinosteroids mainly regulate cell expansion, though, they are one of the most important hormones that regulate stature in plants.
Limit the amount of brassinosteroids in a plant and one might get lawn grass that doesn’t need mowing. Enhance the amount of brassinosteroids in a plant, and one could get food crops that have greater yields.
The ability to regulate plant size has wide implications, besides lawn care and agriculture. Trees could be made more compact for better growth inside crowded cities. Berry bushes could be made to grow taller, making harvesting easier. Hedges can be shaped just so and then programmed to grow no further. The possibilities would seem to be endless.
Of course even the greatest of innovations are not without consequences. Grass that doesn’t need mowing would be devastating to the lawn care industry. Parents would have to find other chores to keep their kids busy and out of trouble. The same kids would not be able to mow the neighbors’ lawns for money. But, just as society survived the end of the buggy whip industry with the advent of automobiles, it will survive the end of the lawn mower and the hedge trimmer.