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‘Plants get stressed out too’ – reducing the climate’s impact on harvests

‘Plants get stressed out too’ – reducing the climate’s impact on harvests

A new research paper has provided fresh insights into how plants respond to stress. Scientists hope to develop new ways of limiting negative impacts on crop yields.

Professor Joanne Chory, director of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, an American scientific research centre, was the senior author of the research paper. She said when plants go through periods of stress, for instance during droughts, they produce lower crop yields.

“If we understand how plants respond to stress, then perhaps we can develop a way to increase their resistance," Professor Chory said.

The findings, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), may enable the breeding of plants that are able to better withstand stress. This could be particularly valuable in the face of warmer climates and increased extreme weather events that are predicted for the future. 

In plant cells, chloroplasts convert energy from sunlight into chemical energy through a process known as photosynthesis. Under normal conditions, the nucleus of the cell maintains steady energy production by sending signals to the chloroplasts. In stressful environments, however, chloroplasts send an SOS signal back to the cell nucleus, prompting a response that helps regulate gene expression and supports the nucleus to optimise energy production from sunlight.

The researchers had previously identified a group of genes, including one particular gene known as GUN1, which have the ability to influence other genes' expression in the cell during times of stress.

The study found that GUN1 integrates numerous chloroplast-to-nucleus retrograde signalling pathways and plays a vital role in how proteins are produced in damaged chloroplasts, providing new insight into how plants respond to stress. 

The next steps in the research project will include further examination of the mechanisms that allow chloroplasts to activate signals which can be relayed to the nucleus, and how various modifications might alter the ability of the plant to respond to stress.

Source: Plants are also stressed out, Salk Institute

Photo credit: Salk Institute

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