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'Magic' plant discovery could lead to growing crops under long droughts.

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'Magic' plant discovery could lead to growing crops under long droughts.

Post by Sk on Tue Dec 22, 2015 2:24 pm

A grass native to Australia and New Guinea may provide the genetic key to enable tropical crops such as rice and others to withstand the effects of climate change and still produce high yields.
As frequent and extreme weather conditions threaten global food security, results from glasshouse trials being conducted at the Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities have shown that the grass, Tripogon loliiformis, regenerates when hydrated even after drying out during prolonged droughts.
QUT scientists Brett Williams, Sagadevan Mundree and their fellow researchers presented characteristics of “resurrection plants” such as T. loliiformis — which belong to a small group of vascular plants that possess unique stress tolerance mechanisms for surviving extreme environments and growing in nutrient and water-poor soils.
The research team showed that resurrection plants manipulate sugar metabolism to promote desiccation tolerance. This finding may provide candidate genes that are potentially useful for the development of stress tolerance in crops such as rice, sorghum and maize, which are a close relative of T. loliiformis.
According to Mundree, “The dried grass accumulates trehalose (a non-reducing sugar found in plants) that triggers autophagy (a process which allows the orderly degradation and recycling of cellular components). The levels of autophagy are controlled by the resurrection plant to prevent death upon drying.”
Autophagy’s role in stress mitigation, anti-aging and prevention of programmed cell death in naturally resilient species may provide fundamental information that can be used for the generation of stress-tolerant crops.
“While trehalose itself may not have as much of a protective role in rice, from the strategies that T. loliiformis utilises, we have learned that trehalose precursors, mainly trehalose-6 phosphate, are an energy metabolism regulator that can be manipulated to improve drought tolerance in maize,” Williams says.
Professor Waterhouse, a molecular geneticist with QUT's Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, said scientists could use this discovery to investigate other niche or sterile growing environments where plants were protected from disease -- and space was an intriguing option.
"So the recent film The Martian, which involved an astronaut stranded on Mars growing potatoes while living in an artificial habitat, had a bit more science fact than fiction than people might think," he said.
The researchers are in the process of proving some proof of concepts at the glasshouse stage in rice and chickpea and they are hopeful of beginning field trials in the next three to five years.
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