Scientists reprogram plants for drought tolerance

Feb 16, 2015

Credit: Sang-Youl Park, UC Riverside

By Science Daily

UC Riverside-led research in synthetic biology provides a strategy that has reprogrammed plants to consume less water after they are exposed to an agrochemical, opening new doors for crop improvement.

Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually.

Drought is a major environmental stress factor affecting plant growth and development. When plants encounter drought, they naturally produce abscisic acid (ABA), a stress hormone that inhibits plant growth and reduces water consumption. Specifically, the hormone turns on a receptor (special protein) in plants when it binds to the receptor like a hand fitting into a glove, resulting in beneficial changes — such as the closing of guard cells on leaves, called stomata, to reduce water loss — that help the plants survive.

While it is true that crops could be sprayed with ABA to assist their survival during drought, ABA is costly to make, rapidly inactivated inside plant cells and light-sensitive, and has therefore failed to find much direct use in agriculture. Several research groups are working to develop synthetic ABA mimics to modulate drought tolerance, but once discovered these mimics are expected to face lengthy and costly development processes.

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One comment on “Scientists reprogram plants for drought tolerance”

  • if ABA inhibits plant growth, it would only be used to get a plant over a drought hump. You could not use it for the entire season. Since plants already make it, I would think a genetic approach to finding a way to turn it on or increase its production is what is needed.

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