The lifespan of crop plants is crucial for agricultural production. In particular, the duration of leaf photosynthesis and the stability of chloroplast proteins are important determinants of grain yields. Environmental stresses such as chilling and drought impair the functions of chloroplast proteins and inhibit photosynthesis leading to premature senescence and yield losses. Despite its paramount importance in crop productivity and quality, lifespan control has remains poorly characterised and understood, particularly in grain legume crops. This project focuses on lifespan controls in soybean leaves (as the source of assimilated carbon metabolites) and nodules (as the source of assimilated nitrogen metabolites). Crucially, this project will determine how the lifespan of these organs is altered in transgenic plants by ectopic expression of cysteine and serine protease inhibitors. The transgenic soybean lines required for these studies have already been generated in order to test and establish proof of the concept that manipulation of protease inhibitors can effectively extend organ lifespan especially under stress conditions. The transgenic lines express either the rice cystatin, (OC-I), a maize serpin or a Bowman Birk (BBI) type inhibitor. The effects of OC-I expression in soybean chloroplasts will be compared with cytosolic expression on key parameters such as photosynthesis, growth and development under optimal, drought and chilling stress conditions. In addition, the effects of ectopic expression of the BBI inhibitor and the serpin on leaf and nodule development will be studied, together with effects of targeted OC-I expression in nodules. Combining the extensive knowledge and experience of the fellow in protease inhibitors with the expertise of the host lab in stress biology, key scientific questions will be addressed while assisting the fellow to further his career in entrepreneurial consultancy, knowledge brokering and technology transfer.
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