Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Water 'thermostat' could help engineer drought-resistant crops

Date:
August 27, 2014
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
A gene that could help engineer drought-resistant crops has been identified by researchers. The gene, called OSCA1, encodes a protein in the cell membrane of plants that senses changes in water availability and adjusts the plant's water conservation machinery accordingly. The findings could make it easier to feed the world's growing population in the face of climate change.

Duke University researchers have identified a gene that could help scientists engineer drought-resistant crops. The gene, called OSCA1, encodes a protein in the cell membrane of plants that senses changes in water availability and adjusts the plant's water conservation machinery accordingly.

Related Articles


"It's similar to a thermostat," said Zhen-Ming Pei, an associate professor of biology at Duke.

The findings, which appear Aug. 28 in the journal Nature, could make it easier to feed the world's growing population in the face of climate change.

Drought is the major cause of crop losses worldwide. A dry spell at a crucial stage of the growing season can cut some crop yields in half.

Water shortages are expected to become more frequent and severe if climate change makes rainfall patterns increasingly unreliable and farmland in some regions continues to dry up. Coupled with a world population that is expected to increase by two billion to three billion by 2050, researchers worldwide are looking for ways to produce more food with less water.

Some researchers hope that genetic engineering -- in addition to improved farming practices and traditional plant breeding -- will add to the arsenal of techniques to help crops withstand summer's swelter. But engineering plants to withstand drought has proven difficult to do, largely because plants use so many strategies to deal with dehydration and hundreds of genes are involved.

The problem is confounded by the fact that drought is often accompanied by heat waves and other stresses that require different coping strategies on the part of the plant, Pei said.

One way that plants respond to water loss is by boosting the levels of calcium within their cells. The calcium surge acts as an alarm signal that triggers coping mechanisms to help the plant rebalance its water budget. But until now, the molecular machinery that plants use to send this signal -- and monitor water availability in general -- remained unknown.

Pei and Duke colleagues Fang Yuan, James Siedow and others identified a gene that encodes a protein in the cell membranes of plant leaves and roots, called OSCA1, which acts as a channel that allows calcium to surge into the cell in times of drought.

The gene was identified in Arabidopsis thaliana, a small unassuming plant related to cabbage and canola that is the lab rat of plant research.

Plants with defective versions of the calcium channel don't send an alarm signal under water stress like normal plants do.

When the researchers grew normal plants and plants with defective versions of the gene side by side in the same pot and exposed them to drought stress, the mutant plants experienced more wilting.

The findings could lead to new ways to help plants thrive when water is scarce.

The team's next step is to manipulate the activity of the OSCA1 gene and related genes and see how those plants respond to drought -- information that could lead to crops that respond more quickly and efficiently to dehydration.

"Plants that enter drought-fighting mode quickly and then switch back to normal growth mode quickly when drought stress is gone should be able to allocate energy more efficiently toward growth," Pei said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Fang Yuan, Huimin Yang, Yan Xue, Dongdong Kong, Rui Ye, Chijun Li, Jingyuan Zhang, Lynn Theprungsirikul, Tayler Shrift, Bryan Krichilsky, Douglas M. Johnson, Gary B. Swift, Yikun He, James N. Siedow, Zhen-Ming Pei. OSCA1 mediates osmotic-stress-evoked Ca2 increases vital for osmosensing in Arabidopsis. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13593

Cite This Page:

Duke University. "Water 'thermostat' could help engineer drought-resistant crops." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140827151752.htm>.
Duke University. (2014, August 27). Water 'thermostat' could help engineer drought-resistant crops. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140827151752.htm
Duke University. "Water 'thermostat' could help engineer drought-resistant crops." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140827151752.htm (accessed January 30, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, January 30, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Brawling Pandas Are Violently Adorable

Brawling Pandas Are Violently Adorable

Buzz60 (Jan. 29, 2015) Video of pandas play fighting at the Chengdu Research Base in China will make your day. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) shows us. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) Biofuels aren&apos;t the best alternative to fossil fuels, according to a new report. In fact, they&apos;re quite a bad one. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
3-D Printed Wheelchair Helps Two-Legged Dog Learn to Run

3-D Printed Wheelchair Helps Two-Legged Dog Learn to Run

Buzz60 (Jan. 29, 2015) 3-D printing helps another two-legged dog run around with his four-legged friends. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) has the adorable video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dogs Bring on So Many Different Emotions in Their Human Best Friends

Dogs Bring on So Many Different Emotions in Their Human Best Friends

RightThisMinute (Jan. 28, 2015) From new-puppy happy tears to helpful-grocery-carrying-dog laughter, our four-legged best friends can make us feel the entire spectrum of emotions. Video provided by RightThisMinute
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins