In Africa and Asia, sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a type of cereal grass, is an important crop and is greatly effected by low amounts of rainfall. Studies in the past have been conducted on some crops in order to find a way to increase the uptake of water with the application of fertilizers. Nitrogen has been added to soybeans ultimately increasing its drought tolerance. Phosphorus has been applied to sorghum, bean, and white clover changing their root characteristics and ability to uptake water. Drought tolerance in pearl millet and hibiscus have been increased by the addition of potassium to their agricultural fields. Antioxidant activity has been increased in liquorice by the addition of calcium. While all of these nutrient fertilizers are nutrients essential for growth, researchers were in search of an additional nutrient that could increase drought tolerance. Ultimately, scientist named silicon as the nutrient in question and aimed to discover if it had drought avoidance characteristics for sorghum.
In the past, silicon was proven to accumulate in endodermal tissue of sorghum and rice. These results of previous studies suggest that silicon plays an important role in water transport or root growth in drought conditions. This study was conducted on two different cultivators or sorghum that had different drought susceptibility. The conclusion of the study proved that when silicon was added to sorghum in drought conditions, the harmful effects of the drought were reduced and when it was added during wet conditions, no changes were seen. When silicon was applied to sorghum in drought conditions, the plants could extract a larger amount of water from dry soil and maintain a high stomata conductance.
The discovery of a nutrient that is not essential to growth which increases the ability of a plant to uptake water could prove to be important in agriculture. While fertilizers added to fields often drain into waterways and cause algal blooms ultimately creating dead zones in important water systems, silicon would not. Further, this nutrient could help to reduce the need for excessive amounts of irrigation to occur on agricultural fields in arid climates and even temperate climates. Research is continuing to be conducted on this new method of field fertilizer application and the results could prove to be important for water conservation and agriculture.