Scientists find key to creating drought resistant crops

December 4th, 2009 - 2:17 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, December 4 (ANI): Scientists have determined precisely how the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) works at the molecular level to help plants respond to environmental stresses such as drought and cold, which could lead to the development of drought resistant crops in the future.

VARI (Van Andel Institute) scientists have determined the structure of the receptors that plants use to sense ABA, a hormone that keeps seeds dormant and keeps buds from sprouting until the climate is right.

Locating these receptors and understanding how they work is a key finding - one that has eluded researchers for nearly a half-century.

This discovery is crucial to understanding how plants respond when they are under stress from extreme temperatures or lack of water.

“The plant community has been waiting for this discovery for many years,” said VARI Research Scientist Karsten Melcher, one of the lead authors of the study.

“It could have major effects on nutrition and crop yields, especially as fresh water sources become scarcer,” said Melcher.

Melcher works in the VARI Laboratory of Structural Biology led by Distinguished Scientific Investigator H. Eric Xu.

“The work by Dr. Xu and his colleagues, published in one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, will undoubtedly become known as an historic defining moment in our understanding of the mode of action of the important plant hormone abscisic acid,” said Grand Valley State University Plant Development Biologist Sheila A. Blackman.

“They show how the signaling molecule and its receptor initiate a cascade of events that ultimately affects the expression of genes that are critical for a plant’s survival under harsh conditions. This work has enormous implications for global food supply,” she added.

Their findings could help to develop crops that grow in drought, cold, salt water environments, and other harsh conditions, perhaps aiding in stemming or reversing food shortages around the world.

Additionally, proteins central to ABA sensing are related to human proteins involved in cellular stress responses and may have implications for stress disorders in humans.

“Proteins with similarities to plant ABA receptors are also found in humans. Further studies in this area could reveal important implications for people with stress disorders,” said Xu. (ANI)

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