Gent, Belgium (SPX) May 13, 2011
VIB/UGent researchers have unveiled a mechanism that can be used to develop crop varieties resistant to mild droughts. For years, improving drought tolerance has been a major aim of academic and industrial research, thereby focusing on effects of extreme drought stress.
However, translating this research to the field has proven to be problematic. In a set of papers in Nature Biotechnology and the Plant Cell, the team of Dirk Inze at the VIB Department of Plant Systems Biology, UGent now shows that the focus should be on mild drought stress instead.
It turns out that under non-lethal stress conditions plants inhibit growth more than absolutely necessary, opening new opportunities for yield improvement.
"By applying this knowledge to the selection of new crop varieties, unnecessary yield losses through drought stress can be avoided, resulting in higher productivity," Dirk Inze from VIB-UGent said.
Producing more food with less water
One way to increase crop productivity is targeting drought stress, which is currently the main factor decreasing actual yields. Research in this area however so far largely failed to result in crops that perform better in drought conditions.
Plant response differs between severe and mild drought stress
This is important as in the field drought rarely is severe enough to kill plants, but rather affects their growth. The paper, published in Nature Biotechnology, also shows that plants actively choose to grow slower when water gets limiting, although they have enough resources to keep growing.
Plant hormone ethylene plays major role in stress response
If the stress is only temporary, growth can resume nonetheless. This research opens up new approaches to develop crop varieties that keep on growing during mild and temporary spells of drought that occur in the field, avoiding unnecessary yield losses and thus resulting in higher crop productivity.
The study was conducted by Aleksandra Skirycz, Korneel Vandenbroucke, Hannes Claeys and colleagues under the direction of Dirk Inze at the VIB Department of Plant Systems Biology, UGent.
Survival and growth of Arabidopsis plants given limited water are not equal, Aleksandra Skirycz, Korneel Vandenbroucke, et al, Nature Biotechnology, doi:10.1038/nbt.1800.
Pause-and-stop - the effects of osmotic stress on cell proliferation during early leaf development in Arabidopsis and a role for ethylene signaling, Aleksandra Skirycz, Hannes Claeys, et al, Plant Cell, in press
This research was funded by FWO ,UGent and VIB.
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