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Understanding plant stress management for better yields

Scientists are examining how plants become resistant to stress and how their development is therefore dictated by their environment.

Energy

Plants are constantly exposed to multiple types of nutritional, abiotic and biotic stress. This often causes a reduction in photosynthesis or respiration, resulting in energy deprivation and ultimately in growth arrest. Researchers are investigating how plants manage this stress in order to better understand the effect it has on crop yields. Different stresses trigger similar downstream responses that include largely overlapping patterns of gene expression. The 'Energy signalling in the stress response' (ESIS) project aims to understand how plants continue to grow even when challenged by various sources of stress, by examining Snf1-related kinase1 (SnRK1). This is the evolutionarily conserved energy sensor protein kinase that partly regulates this general stress transcriptome in plants. Upon sensing an energy deficit associated with stress, SnRK1 triggers extensive transcriptional changes that contribute to restoring metabolic and energy homeostasis, promoting cell survival and allowing the elaboration of longer-term responses for adaptation, growth and development, explain the researchers. However, they add that despite the importance of this energy signalling pathway, virtually nothing is known about its mode of operation. Using a combination of cell-based assays, functional genomics, bioinformatics, mutant screens and genetics, the research team will therefore seek to discern the regulatory mechanisms that govern SnRK1 action. They will also attempt to further dissect this signalling pathway by identifying novel components.

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