Genetically engineered ‘on-off switch’ could activate drought tolerance in plants

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An innovative ‘on-off’ switch added to a plant protein may one day allow farmers to prep crops for drought by spraying them with a commonly used agricultural compound.

The technique, reported on 4 February in Nature, works by closing tiny pores — called stomata — in leaves that let in carbon dioxide, a key ingredient in photosynthesis, but lose water in the process.

One way that plants respond to limited water is to boost levels of a hormone called abscisic acid (ABA). That hormone, in turn, reduces water loss by closing stomata.

Researchers found the proteins that sense ABA and trigger those responses. Sean Cutler, a plant biologist at the University of California, Riverside, and his team then began to explore how to put the discovery to practical use. The researchers mapped where ABA binds to one such protein receptor, and created a library containing every possible mutation at that site. They then tested their mutant receptors against a host of chemicals used in agriculture.

 

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