Korean researchers find pathway to increase plants' drought tolerance

Korean scientists using a genome-wide approach identified a pathway that can be used to increase drought tolerance in crops, a paper in the journal Plant Cell reported this week.

Drought is one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the world today, and regions all over the world are suffering from severe drought, threatening crop production.

Over the course of evolution, plants have developed mechanisms to adapt to periods of inadequate water, and some species have demonstrated the ability to handle drought better than others. Scientists have sought to understand how plants respond to drought stress and what can be done to increase the drought tolerance of economically important plants.

Seoul National University scientist Nam-Chon Paek is the senior author of the paper, which takes advantage of the genetic resources in the Arabidopsis thaliana plant model to reveal important underpinnings of drought responses in plants.

Paek said that understanding drought-responsive signaling and the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of drought tolerance in model plants such as Arabidopsis and rice provides new insight into how to develop drought-tolerant crop plants through conventional breeding or biotechnological approaches.

Paek's research group analyzed plants mutated in a regulatory gene called NAC016 and found that NAC016-mutant plants were more resistant to drought. The researchers set out to understand how this drought tolerance occurred by comparing the set of expressed genes in the mutants to that in normal plants.

In this case, the scientists discovered that NAC016 is part of a mechanism to turn off responses to drought. This is important because in the wild, plants likely evolved to keep the drought-response pathways inactive until needed so that they could save the energy the responses would require. For agricultural purposes, the ability to control when the pathway is on would be a great boon to developing drought-tolerant crops.

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Seoul National University

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