AMES, Iowa - People feel it, animals feel it, and yes, plants sense it too.
Plant researchers are taking a long look at stress in order to improve crop productivity, especially when faced with issues of climate change.
"Imagine what a plant goes through when it hasn't rained for over a week and it's feeling dry - its leaves are wilting," says Stephen Howell, professor of genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute. "Add in some strong afternoon sunshine with no option to move into the shade because its roots are planted in the ground. That's stress. And the plant has got to stand there and deal with it!"
Understanding and eventually curbing crop susceptibility to certain stresses could allow for higher yields during drought years in the agricultural areas of the world. It may also allow drier areas of the planet to support sustainable yields and profitable crops, according to Howell.
Howell studies the model plant system Arabidopsis, a relative of mustard, with the long-term goal of applying discoveries to crop plants. He, along with postdoctoral researcher Jian-Xiang Liu, recently released research that outlines new features about plant stress response mechanisms in Arabidopsis. The research is highlighted in the March 5 issue of The Plant Cell.
"The system protects plants from adverse environmental conditions, but these responses slow or delay growth," explains Howell. "So there's a tradeoff."
Plants respond to different types of stress, such as salt or heat, through multifaceted molecular signaling pathways. Understanding these pathways -- identifying the key molecules and their specific roles -- provides a treasure trove of opportunity for molecular breeding approaches to enhance the ability of crop plants to survive stressful conditions without major yield loss.
Howell and his colleagues have determined how special molecular indicators
|Contact: Stephen H. Howell|
Iowa State University