Fri, Aug 14, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Plant growth protein discovered

DRY TIMES:An Academia Sinica team studied an edible mustard green that grows even when its water supply is limited, and is now looking at other plants like soybeans

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

Academia Sinica researchers yesterday announced the discovery of a plant protein that enhances growth during drought, which offers the possibility of making more crops drought-resistant, as well as biotechnology applications.

A team led by associate research fellow Paul Verslues found a protein in Arabidopsis thaliana — an edible mustard green — that, when overexpressed, can promote growth when water is limited.

The team was the first in the world to discover the protein, At14a like1 (ALF1), and its ability to stimulate growth when a plant is under drought stress, Verslues said.

When its performance is doubled or tripled, ALF1 enhances plant growth by 60 to 70 percent when the plant is given reduced watering — up to a two-thirds decrease in normal water supply, he said.

If the ALF1 is suppressed in insufficiently watered plants, the plants show less growth compared to plants whose ALF1 functions normally, Verslues said.

The ALF1 interacts with growth-suppression agents, possibly curtailing those agents naturally, he said.

The team’s finding differs from previous research on drought-resistance in plants in two respects: unlike other drought-tolerant biotechnologies developed by companies such as Monsanto that promote crop yield by infecting crops to screen unwanted genes without identifying specific growth-promotion agents, the ALF1 is singled out as a particular growth enhancer, Verslues said.

Second, previous research mainly focused on enabling crops to survive under extreme drought, but his team’s objective was to increase yield when plants are put in less severe conditions, he added.

There is no known adverse effect of ALF1 when overexpressed, and the protein, as innate to Arabidopsis thaliana, is a more viable option for genetic transfer compared with other genetic modification methods, he said.

The team is trying to reproduce its findings in other plants, such as tomatoes, soybeans and broccoli, Verslues said, adding that it is highly likely that similar drought-resistance could be produced in those plants due to their genetic proximity to Arabidopsis thaliana.

Results are expected to be known within a year, he said, adding that if the research proves successful, the team would then move on to grain crops.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America.

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