Moss may help create crops to survive drought

December 14th, 2007 - 4:21 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 14 (ANI): Moss might be one of the simplest plants, but according to some scientists they can help in creating crops for surviving the ravages of drought.

The finding was based on a study that was started over 20 years ago by Professor David Cove at the Leeds University. And, now Dr Andy Cuming has continued Coves work, have sequenced the genome for Physcomitrella, and found the ability of moss to survive severe dehydration and then regrow when watered could be of enormous use in crops grown in drought-stricken areas of the developing world.

The moss Physcomitrella patens is a primitive plant, similar to the first plants that began to grow on land around 450 million years ago. Just one cell thick, these early plants had to adapt to withstand cold, heat and drought without roots or complex leaves.

With the sequencing of mosss DNA, scientists will be able to identify which genes control these survival tactics and adapt crops to do the same.

Physcomitrella is a really useful plant to study. In addition to being the link between water-based algae and land plants, it also has many important characteristics, which make it special. By sequencing the genome, we can start to identify their genetic basis and use the knowledge for crop improvement, Cuming said.

Physcomitrella has a single haploid genome, which makes it easier to identify which characteristics link to which gene.

The moss is also able to integrate new DNA into a defined target in the genome, unlike most plants, which integrate new DNA randomly. This means that modification of the moss genome is far more controlled than with other plants and allows the moss to be adapted as a green factory to produce pharmaceutical products.

If we can discover what mechanisms cause the Physcomitrella genome to integrate DNA in this way we may be able to transfer those to other plants, to allow more controlled modification of their genomes, Cuming said.

However, we also believe many of the useful genes in Physcomitrella are probably still present in higher crop plants, but are no longer active in the same way. So rather than adding new DNA well just be activating whats already there to create the properties we want.

Until now, only a handful of flowering plant genomes have been sequenced, compared with a large number of diverse animal genomes.

But knowledge of a range of genomes is really important for scientific study. To help in understanding the human genome, scientists use the DNA of fruit flies, nematode worms and mice, to name only a few. We need that range in plant sciences too and Physcomitrella patens is a fantastic one to add to the list, Cuming added.

The study is published in Science. (ANI)

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