Plants, in general, don’t like salt–in fact, there are over one billion acres of cropland globally that has been abandoned to salt, 15 million acres of it in the U.S. alone. A  new genetic trait developed by the energy crop company Ceres could help to change that, by developing salt-tolerant crops.

Ceres has announced that its researchers have tested the effects of very high salt concentrations and also seawater from the Pacific Ocean, which contains mixtures of salts in a high concentration, on improved-energy grass varieties in its California greenhouses, including sorghum, miscanthus and switchgrass, all of which are highly productive sources of biomass. Results in several crops, including switchgrass, have shown levels of salt tolerance not seen before.

image via Ceres

The company emphasizes that the development of this trait will enable biofuels to be grown in areas currently lost to agriculture (which will also presumably help it to address the debate over using arable land to feed our cars, rather than the world’s hungry). However, a representative also notes that this trait can be grafted into food crops, via the wonders of modern genetic science.

“In the end, this is not so much a salt trait, but a productivity trait and a land-use trait,” said Richard Hamilton, Ceres President and CEO, in a statement. “I am convinced more than ever that techniques of modern plant science can continue to deliver innovations that increase yields and reduce the footprint of agriculture. Improved energy crops will enable the bioenergy industry to scale far beyond the limits of conventional wisdom.”

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