Melbourne researchers find protein family that can help plants grow on salt

A team led Staffan Persson, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, has recently identified a protein family that can help plants grow on salt.

“There are salt-tolerant plants, which typically are referred to as halophytes," Persson said. "These include saltbushes and grass species that live in salt-water marshes, and of course seagrasses. Switch grass, which is a member of what is referred to as the second-generation biofuel crops, can also grow on soils that are salty. Most crop species are, however, not well-adapted to grow on soils that contain salt, including rice and beans.”

This new protein family, named Companions of Cellulose synthase (CC), supports the cellulose synthase machinery under salt-stress conditions.

Persson said he can see salt playing a big part in the future of agricultural fields.

“Since a large portion of our crops are grown on lands that are irrigated, it is likely that salinity will become a major agricultural problem in the future," he said. "Irrigation can cause salt to be released from soil layers, and this salt can then be re-deposited closer to the soil surface and influence plant growth.”

It is estimated that 20 percent of the total and 33 percent of irrigated agricultural fields worldwide are negatively affected by high salt.

“The focus of our research is to better understand the protein complex that makes cellulose, and to find out how this complex is regulated," Persson said. "The ultimate aim is to use our findings to produce plants with altered cellulose structure or content that can both improve plant growth but also that can be beneficial for industries."

Organizations in this Story

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology

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