From: ENN Staff
Published January 14, 2014 09:05 AM

Newly Discovered Modifier Protein Could Stimulate Plant Growth Under Environmental Stress

Whether or not you have a green thumb, if a plant is not completely happy with the right about of water, sunlight, or even the right make-up of soil, plants will slow their growth or even stop growing altogether in order to save energy.

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But according to new research led by scientists at Durham University, plants contain a natural mechanism that could stimulate their growth even under stress, which could potentially lead to better crop yields.

They do this by making proteins that repress growth. This process is reversed when plants produce a hormone — called Gibberellin — which breaks down the proteins that repress growth.

Growth repression can be problematic not only for your own garden, but for farmers as crops that suffer from restricted growth produce smaller yields.

The research team, led by the Durham Centre for Crop Improvement Technology, have discovered that plants have the natural ability to regulate their growth independently of Gibberellin, particularly during times of environmental stress.

They found that plants produce a modifier protein, called SUMO that interacts with the growth repressing proteins.

The researchers believe that by modifying the interaction between the modifier protein and the repressor proteins they can remove the brakes from plant growth, leading to higher yields, even when plants are experiencing stress.

This interaction can be modified in a number of ways, including by conventional plant breeding methods and by biotechnology techniques.

The research was carried out on Thale Cress, a model for plant research that occurs naturally throughout most of Europe and Central Asia, but the scientists say the mechanism they have found also exists in crops such as barley, corn, rice and wheat.

Corresponding author Dr Ari Sadanandom, Associate Director of the Durham Centre for Crop Improvement Technology, in Durham University's School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said the finding could be an important aid in crop production.

Dr Sadanandom said: "What we have found is a molecular mechanism in plants which stabilizes the levels of specific proteins that restrict growth in changing environmental conditions.

"This mechanism works independently of the Gibberellin hormone, meaning we can use this new understanding for a novel approach to encourage the plant to grow, even when under stress.

"If we can encourage the crops to keep growing, even when faced by adverse conditions, it could give us greater yields and lead to sustainable intensification of food production that we must achieve to meet the demands on the planet’s finite resources."

Read more at Durham University.

Crop image via Shutterstock.

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