A team of Academia Sinica researchers yesterday unveiled a mechanism to enhance the environmental stress tolerance of rice plants by regulating enzymatic and sugary expression, saying that it would improve rice production under extreme weather conditions.
As rice is the staple food for nearly half of the global population, improving its production and resistance to environmental challenges is crucial, Institute of Molecular Biology distinguished research fellow Yu Su-may (余淑美) told a news conference in Taipei.
The issue has become more pressing, as the world’s population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050.
Photo: Chien Hui-ju, Taipei Times
In addition to population growth, other challenges to rice production include extreme weather, such as heat waves and inadequate water supplies for agricultural use, she said.
To improve rice production, the team found that the key is regulation of the expression of the enzyme alpha-amylase, which hydrolyzes starch into sugars in plants and is induced by sugar starvation and repressed by sugar provision, Yu said.
The process can be regulated by adjusting the functions of two proteins called MYBS1 and MYBS2, which are transcription factors competing to bind to the enzyme to either promote or repress its sugar induction, she said.
Under a low sugar level, MYBS1 will enter cell nuclei to promote alpha-amylase’s expression, while MYBS2 will restrict its expression when the sugar level is high, Yu said.
When MYBS2 is suppressed in a dry and hot environment, the enzyme alpha-amylase is induced to hydrolyze starch in sugars, she said.
After nearly six years of research, the team found — using gene editing techniques — that controlling the expressions of MYBS2 and alpha-amylase in rice plants can enhance their production and stress resistance, she added.
Gene-edited rice plants are 1.5 larger than non-modified plants, and they can survive in temperatures up to 42°C and with 20 percent less water, Yu said.
However, whether the gene editing technique influences the nutrition and flavor of rice requires more research, she said.
Other team members include David Ho (賀端華), a distinguished research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology, and Lu Chung-an (陸重安), associate professor at the National Central University’s Department of Life Sciences.
Their findings were published on Oct. 22 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
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