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Basic research enhances potential for cultivation in extreme climates

09 May 2011 Umeå universitet

Research on how genes are expressed has resulted in plants that can survive drought, high salt concentrations, and infections. This opens the possibility of forestry in harsh climates. The plants produce more leaves than usual, which means that they can yield more food per plant. These are the findings of researchers at Umeå University in Sweden in an article in the Proceedings of the American Academy of SciencesPNAS.

All living organisms are dependent on water, but this is especially true of plants. Limited access to water is one of the decisive factors for humans to be able to survive in large parts of the earth. The development of plants (crops) with greater tolerance for drought is of great importance for more people to be able to live a decent life.

In a pure basic research project, where the goal was to understand how cells regulate how proteins are produced, scientists in Umeå have now taken a giant step forward on the road to developing plants with greater resistance to drought, infections, and high concentrations of salt. By deactivating a gene that codes for a protein that is part of the so-called mediator complex in the plant mouse-ear cress, the researchers have shown that these plants evince a much greater ability to survive drought. At the same time, they have stronger resistance to high salt concentrations and their blooming is delayed, which indirectly leads to increased leaf production.

The research project is a collaboration between scientists at the Department of Medical Chemistry and Biophysics at Umeå University and the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology and the Department of Microbiology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1002981108

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