RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – “Plants can make a difference, especially healthy plants in a warming climate,” explains Dr. Sheng-Yang He, a Duke professor of Biology and investigator for Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

But our warming climate is having an impact on plants.

Over the last 10 years, Dr. He and other researchers have been studying plants and the impact warmer temperatures have.

“What we discovered is the plant’s immune system, the plant has an immune system like us, allows them to fight against disease and insects, the immune system doesn’t function very well at high temperatures,” He explained.

Specifically, a protein that the plant produces to protect itself is not produced when temperatures are too warm, leading the plant to be vulnerable and produce less yields.

This is a key point in the next phase of their research.

“Once we found that, we will come up with a solution to make the plant produce that protein, even at a high temperature and therefore the plant can now defend against diseases and insects.” He said. “It’s a very new thing that no one else has ever done before.”

Their research is critical not just because of climate change, but also because of population growth.

By 2050, the global population could be as high as 10 billion, and food insecurity could become a real problem.

“If we have sufficient food, the food price will be down, if we don’t have sufficient food or have bad quality food, it’s not the life you want to live, so I think this is really important.”

Across the world, 30-40 percent of crop yield is lost every year due to disease and parasites, so if the plant’s immune system can work in these high temperatures, that means more yields and more food.

There is so much more to this story, so if you want to read the research from Dr. He and his fellow authors, click here.