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ISU research leads to understanding of how crops deal with stress -- yield's biggest enemy
Date:4/25/2011

AMES, Iowa - Like people, plants experience stress. And also, like people, the response to that stress can determine success.

People can exercise, or rest, or talk about the problem.

For plants, ways to deal with stress are internal. And ISU researchers are trying to understand how they do it.

Stephen Howell is a professor of genetics, development and cell biology and former director of the Plant Sciences Institute at ISU. His research is featured in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We've discovered a new arm of the pathway by which plants activate a response to environmental stress," he said.

Adverse environmental conditions, such as drought, flood, heat and other stresses, affect yield more than crop pests and diseases. Finding a way to maintain high yields for plants under stress is a goal of plant breeders and other agriculture stakeholders, said Howell.

"These are environmental stresses that the farmers can't control," Howell said. "They are acts of nature. And now seed companies are interested in trying to equip plants with the ability to tolerate stress."

Plant cells produce proteins and ship them to different parts of the cell.

During production and shipment, these proteins move through an area of the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER).

Under normal conditions, these proteins are folded into their normal, healthy three-dimensional structures as they are produced.

When a plant is under stress, its cells produce poorly folded or unfolded proteins. Inside the ER, a built-in, quality-control system senses this and "sets off an alarm in the cell," said Howell.

In response to the alarm, another protein (IRE1) cuts apart an important RNA molecule, but then splices it back together to create a different sequence.

This cut-and-splice event activates a cascade of stress response genes whose p
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Contact: Stephen Howell
shh@iastate.edu
703-292-8528
Iowa State University
Source:Eurekalert

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