Plant researchers are taking a long look at stress in order to improve crop productivity, especially when faced with issues of climate change.
"Imagine what a plant goes through when it hasn't rained for over a week and it's feeling dry - its leaves are wilting," says Stephen Howell, professor of genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute. "Add in some strong afternoon sunshine with no option to move into the shade because its roots are planted in the ground. That's stress. And the plant has got to stand there and deal with it!"
Understanding and eventually curbing crop susceptibility to certain stresses could allow for higher yields during drought years in the agricultural areas of the world. It may also allow drier areas of the planet to support sustainable yields and profitable crops, according to Howell.
Howell studies the model plant system Arabidopsis, a relative of mustard, with the long-term goal of applying discoveries to crop plants. He, along with postdoctoral researcher Jian-Xiang Liu, recently released research that outlines new features about plant stress response mechanisms in Arabidopsis. The research is highlighted in the March 5 issue of the journal The Plant Cell.
"The system protects plants from adverse environmental conditions, but these responses slow or delay growth," explains Howell. "So there's a tradeoff."
Plants respond to different types of stress, such as salt or heat, through multifaceted molecular signaling pathways. Understanding these pathways -- identifying the key molecules and their specific roles -- provides a treasure trove of opportunity for molecular breeding approaches to enhance the ability of crop plants to survive stressful conditions without major yield loss.
Howell and his colleagues have determined how special molecular indicators stationed inside the cell, but outside the nucleus, respond when stress warning bells go off. These sensors pick up on cues that appear as misfolded proteins.
These misfolded proteins are recognized as untidy. Much like a meticulous housekeeper would realize something was wrong if he or she discovered heaps of unfolded clothes in the closet, according to Howell.
"Correct folding is very important to the function of a protein. Incorrectly folded proteins or unfolded proteins will malfunction," says Howell. "But protein folding is a very finicky process and can mess up when environmental conditions are bad, as during a period of intense heat. Under these conditions, unfolded proteins accumulate and alarm bells are set off in the plant cell."
When these alarm bells go off inside the plant cell, the sensor molecules, called molecular-associated transcription factors, are unleashed. They enter the cell's nucleus -- its command center -- and turn on specific genes that send out reinforcements to help the protein-folding process.
In the research, Howell and his colleagues reveal how these transcription factors find and activate their target genes. When coupled with a previous study from this group, the paper describes how there are actually two sets of factors involved. One set specializes in activating genes in response to salt stress. The factor in this study responds to heat stress and the accumulation of unfolded proteins. Together they help plants withstand a variety of stresses.
Stephen H. Howell | EurekAlert!
Scientists enlist engineered protein to battle the MERS virus
22.05.2017 | University of Toronto
Insight into enzyme's 3-D structure could cut biofuel costs
19.05.2017 | DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope. Researchers from the University of Basel’s Swiss Nanoscience Institute network have reported the results in the journal Science Advances.
Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and is an integral part of almost all organic compounds. Molecules and sections of macromolecules are...
22.05.2017 | Event News
17.05.2017 | Event News
16.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.05.2017 | Life Sciences
22.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy