Scientists find possible “resurrection” solution for crops to survive drought
The finding has come after researchers from the Queensland University of Technology began studying an Australian native grass called Tripogon loliiformis. Classified as a ‘resurrection plant’ the grass has the ability to withstand desiccation (being dried out) for extended periods before being revived by water.
Until now it was not known how the plant actually survived in this state but through their research, the scientists have found that sugar manipulation and the controlled sacrifice of cells are the key.
How it works
The scientists found that when the grass experiences drought it starts collecting trehalose (a non-reducing sugar found in plants) which then triggers autophagy, a process which allows for degradation and recycling of plant cells.
Lead researcher Professor Sagadevan Mundree said autophagy was a survival method which involves removing damaged proteins and recycling nutrients.
“The resurrection plant controls the levels of autophagy to prevent death upon drying,” Professor Mundree said on the Queensland University of technology website.
“Our analysis directly linked the accumulation of trehalose with the onset of autophagy in dehydrated and dried out T. loliiformis shoots,” he said.
“Presumably, once induced, autophagy promotes desiccation tolerance in the grass, by recycling nutrients and removing cellular toxins to suppress programmed cell death,” he said.
“These findings illustrate how resurrection plants manipulate sugar metabolism to promote desiccation tolerance and may provide candidate genes that are potentially useful for the development of stress tolerant crops,” Professor Mundree concluded.
Potential impact on global food crop farming
One of the researchers Dr Williams said that the research had implications for global crops like chickpeas and rice.
“It’s an important step along a genetic path that we hope will lead to scientists being able to develop more robust crop varieties that can withstand the uncertainty of climate change whilst still producing maximum yields,” he said on the Queensland University of technology website.
“Global climate change, increasingly erratic weather and a burgeoning global population are significant threats to the sustainability of future crop production, but resurrection plants present great potential for the development of stress tolerant crops,” said Dr Williams.
The research was published on 4 December 2015 in Volume 11, Issue 12 of PLOS Genetics journal.