Strange properties of the tequila
plant studied by Mexican student
Feb. 5, 2003
Tequila is the national drink of Mexico and is also hugely
popular worldwide. Now a Mexican student has come to England to
study the unusual properties of tequila plants.
Postgraduate student Iván Saldaña Oyarzabal, from Guadalajara,
which is 50km from the town of Tequila is studying "Agave
Tequilana" and its unusual behaviour at the University of Sussex.
"-These agave plants grow in extreme environments and they have
a very particular behaviour," says Iván. -They are important
plants economically and culturally, but their molecular biology
has not been investigated that much in the past."
Past research has mainly concentrated on the agave plants¹
chemical and industrial properties, for example how to produce
alcohol from them and how to use the waste products from tequila
Unlike 90% of all other plants, "Agave Tequilana" closes its
pores in the heat of the day to reduce water loss and opens them
at night to take in the carbon dioxide it needs. This is known
as Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) an evolutionary adaptation
to hot and dry regions where water conservation is vital.
The Toltec Indians discovered a drink more than 2000 years ago.
Agave plants thrive in Mexico where conditions such as altitude
and climate are perfect for their growth. It takes the agave
plant 8 to 10 years to mature and be ready for harvesting and
"-Almost all agave plants are clones because they are never
allowed to develop seeds. This makes them vulnerable to
parasites and diseases," says Iván. -Normally they never flower
as the maximum amount of sugar in the plants is just before they
Eighteen agave plants have been shipped over from Mexico for
this project. Iván's research is funded by the Consejo Nacional
de Ciencia y Tecnología (the Mexican Council for Science and
University of Sussex.
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