Rockefeller researchers identify defense system in plants

Protein found to confer resistance to drought

Researchers at The Rockefeller University have discovered that an experimental plant may harbor an additional line of defense against drought, once it has left the safety of its seed. The work suggests that a well-known plant hormone delays the growth of newly sprouted plants in order to give them one last chance to monitor their environment for signs of dryness before initiating growth. Furthermore, they have identified a specific protein as a key player in the process.

The findings, reported in the April 3 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition #14), are of immediate interest to agricultural and biotechnology industries, because crops could potentially be genetically modified to be more resistant to drought. Dry, salty lands in developing countries tend to dampen food productivity, hence tougher crops that are less sensitive to arid conditions might prove beneficial.

"Our work reveals a novel level of complexity in the early growth process and suggests that it may be possible to manipulate plants so that they can better cope with stressful conditions, such as dry or high salt soils," says Luis Lopez-Molina, Ph.D., a Rockefeller postdoctoral fellow and one of two lead authors of the paper.

Previously, it was believed that once a developing plant made the decision to break seed dormancy and germinate, it would continue to blossom, unchecked. This new research proposes a second checkpoint, so that, for example in the case of the weed Arabidopsis, the plant has an opportunity to hold-off on growth in case it is accidentally triggered to germinate by a cold summers night.

"You have a seed thats asleep, but when it wakes up it looks around and asks: do I have enough water?"says Nam-Hai Chua, Ph.D., head of the Laboratory of Plant Molecular Biology at Rockefeller and co-author of the paper.

Arabidopsis, a well-studied weed in the m

Contact: Whitney Clavin
Rockefeller University

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