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Researchers from Olsztyn "stress" plants to get better crops

15.04.2013 Nature

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Researchers from Olsztyn "stress" plants with excess water and extreme temperatures to see which plants can survive in adverse conditions. They also observe the behaviour of thousands of vegetable proteins. Modifying some of them can help breed varieties that have been difficult to obtain in Polish climate.

Plants "condemned" to grow in one particular location are particularly vulnerable to capricious environmental conditions interfering with their development. Scientists call these unfavourable conditions "stresses". The most common include: drought, soil salinity, too high or too low a temperature.


"For centuries, plants have been adapting even to the extreme weather conditions" - explained Prof. Stanisław Weidner from the Faculty of Biology, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn. He reminded that halophytes adapted to live in saline conditions: they get rid of salt, or build a root in a way that prevents salt from reaching them. Resurrection plants that live in the deserts can dry out almost completely and come to life after a few drops of rain.


"Even plants that live in our conditions have evolved adaptive mechanisms to climatic conditions. It took thousands of years, and we want to skip these thousands of years of adaptation" - the researcher told PAP.


To do this, Prof. Weidner and colleagues at Faculty of Biology UWM subject plants to low and high temperatures, lack of water or saline soil. They "stress" grains, but also peas and beans, very sensitive to cold. Then, using computer methods, they analyse thousands of vegetable proteins. The reaction of some proteins helps plants defend against harsh climatic conditions. This phenomenon can be compared to the reaction of the human body, which uses its immune system defends itself against diseases.


"Our research shows that among the vegetable proteins there are those that are more expressed in response to specific climatic conditions than others - said the scientist. - If we stress the plant with cold, then some of a few thousands proteins are highly expressed. When the plant has a shortage of water, other proteins respond. Thus, we find the proteins that play important roles in protecting the plants, and the risks to which the plant is resistant".


This will tell the scientists which species of plants can be grown in a cool climate of Warmia and Mazury, and which in Wielkopolska, where intense droughts occur. However, they do not focus on plants commonly found in Poland, but the rarer species whose growing in our climatic conditions is very difficult or has failed.


"We are trying to extend the cultivation zone of many plants. Vine grows best in the Mediterranean climate zone. However, , almost everyone wants to have it them in their gardens also in Poland. We want to grow soybeans that will give the crop that will be cost-effective for farmers in our country. We focus on plants, which have not yet been grown in Poland on a large scale" - said Prof. Weidner.


Scientists from Olsztyn do not intend to stop at getting information. In the next part of their research they want to increase the resistance of plants. "Finding the varieties that have more +resistant+ proteins or introducing additional protein genes by genetic engineering could result in plant more resistant to various stresses" - explained Prof. Weidner.


He noted that basic research on the mechanisms of plant response to stress factors, which allows to deal with adverse conditions, are being carried out in laboratories around the world. The research conducted in the U.S. shows that if we could increase the plants’ resistance to adverse environmental factors, crops from the existing farmland could increase by 70-80 percent.


"According to estimates, the current crop area is only 10 percent of total land area, and population projections indicate that the problems with feeding humans and animals in the world will continue to increase" - explained Prof. Weidner.


The study of defence mechanisms of plants to adverse factors is carried out in the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST).


PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Ewelina Krajczyńska


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