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Modifier protein could increase crop yields, even in poor conditions

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January 15, 2014

A modifier protein that can be used to interfere with the plant's growth repression protei...

A modifier protein that can be used to interfere with the plant's growth repression proteins could lead to higher crop yields, even in unfavorable conditions (Photo: Shutterstock)

Researchers have discovered a new way to increase plant growth by suppressing the natural response to environmental stress. The scientists have found a modifier protein that can be used to interfere with the plant's growth repression proteins independently of the previously identified hormone Gibberellin. They believe this will lead to higher crop yields, even in unfavorable conditions.

When plants face difficult conditions, like drought or high soil salinity, they produce growth-regulating DELLA proteins. It is already known that Gibberlin can reverse the effects of DELLA proteins, but the research team, led by Durham University’s Dr Ari Sadanandom, discovered that the Small Ubiquitin-like Modifier (SUMO) protein also reduces the amount of growth repression experienced.

They demonstrated the ability to block the mechanism of control growth, GID1 receptors, when DELLAs were joined with the SUMO protein. The subsequent obstruction of GID1 by SUMO-paired DELLAs led to improved growth during stress. This was done independently of the much studied growth hormone Gibberellin, that plants use to break down DELLA proteins.

The study, which involved members from the University of Nottingham, Rothamsted Research and the University of Warwick, was conducted on Thale Cress, but the team believes the research could also be applied to commercial crops, such as barley, corn, rice and wheat. They researchers believe the interaction between the modifier protein and the repressor proteins can be modified in a number of ways, including using biotechnology techniques and through conventional plant breeding methods.

“What we have found is a molecular mechanism in plants which stabilizes the levels of specific proteins that restrict growth in changing environmental conditions,” says Dr Sadanandom. “This mechanism works independently of the Gibberellin hormone, meaning we can use this new understanding for a novel approach to encourage the plant to grow, even when under stress. If you are a farmer in the field then you don’t want your wheat to stop growing whenever it is faced with adverse conditions. If we can encourage the crops to keep growing, even when faced by adverse conditions, it could give us greater yields and lead to sustainable intensification of food production that we must achieve to meet the demands on the planet’s finite resources.”

The research was published in the journal Developmental Cell and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. It is the subject of pending patent applications and commercial rights are available from Plant Bioscience Limited, Durham’s commercialization partner for this technology.

Source: Durham University

12 Comments

Yea but at what cost?

Natural selection has catered for a conservative/winding down of production mechanism in the absence of suitable soil nutrients or reduced available water.

It allows the plant to continue to produce some reduced percentage of viable seems for its own future reproduction.

If you turn off this mechanism, then the resultant seeds can not technically be 100%. Not unless somehow the plant can harness beyond its capacity.

Which translates to it ignoring its own available soil reserves to supplement the seed, which might translate to more protein volume, but producing seeds that are not mature and cannot reproduce (or have a limited reproduction). Sounds like a Monsanto stunt..

Nairda
15th January, 2014 @ 08:37 pm PST

This is Monsanto GMO Wheat. Don't let the loose description fool you. Unless you enjoy putting completely unnatural things into your body,

ErinTarn
16th January, 2014 @ 02:01 am PST

@ Nairda

Well said! There is clearly the potential to force the farmer into having to buy proprietary seed if he cannot rely on what he retains for that purpose from his harvest.

Climate change is only nibbling at our ankles at present. When it really shows its teeth, we are going to need products such as this. I just hope that any company that adopts it has ethics very much at the front of their thinking, not profit and damn the cost.

Mel Tisdale
16th January, 2014 @ 04:34 am PST

Given the history of GSM manufacturers behavior I'd say "...any company that adopts it has ethics very much at the front of their thinking..." Is highly unlikely.

Especially if Monsanto gets it's fingers in it. There have been cases where these companies sue farmers adjacent to fields sown with their GSM seed because cross polination, due to wind and polinator migration, added their copyrighted/patented genes to the neighbors crop without his/her doing anything to encourage it.

Of course the ruling was in their favor and hey got a huge sum for the farmers "theft" of intelectual property these days money buys judgements and justice has little to do with it. If justice were served they would have been required to remove all the modified seed at their own expense and replace the farmers seed with organic natural seed. Then cease selling their GSM product until they could guarantee it would not contaminate additional crops.

VirtualGathis
16th January, 2014 @ 07:53 am PST

The comment that this is Monsanto GMO Wheat is not supported by the article.

The technique decribed has only been tested on something called "Thale Cress." The researchers hope is that it will be viable on a number of food crops, including barley, corn, rice and wheat.

AllenH
16th January, 2014 @ 08:12 am PST

Often, such research stems from noble ideals. But if we look for the "man behind the curtain" we begin to see a less-altruistic motive. The Durham Centre for Crop Improvement Technology (DCCIT) website lists funding secured from Bayer CropScience. In addition to conventional agrochemical business, (i.e. pesticides) it is involved in genetic engineering of food.

From Wiki: "In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Bayer CropScience's LibertyLink genetically modified rice had contaminated the U.S. rice supply. Shortly after the public learned of the contamination, the E.U. banned imports of U.S. long-grain rice and the futures price plunged. In April 2010, a Lonoke County, Arkansas jury awarded a dozen farmers $48 million. The case is currently on appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. On 1 July 2011 Bayer CropScience agreed to a global settlement for up to $750 million". With GMOs banned in Europe already, the initiative to use this technology will most-likely come to US soil.

Brian Sharpe
16th January, 2014 @ 08:47 am PST

Now we can pollute all we want and eat the polluted crap that grows there, thanks to GMO's.

ezeflyer
16th January, 2014 @ 09:14 am PST

2 of the largest seed companies in the world are Dekalb owned by Monsanto and Pioneer owed by Dupont. Both Pioneer and Dekalb have products ready to go to market that sound very similar to what is mentioned in this article. My understanding is that the trait is being used in corn (maize). The coverage never went into the mechanism of the plant modification so it could be something different but is a similar idea. Sometimes the practical applications run ahead of officially recorded science. Early testing indicated little yield advantage.

Jim A
16th January, 2014 @ 12:10 pm PST

GMOs from GE needs peer reviewed testing in isolated biospheres for multiple generations (read multiple years), but that puts responsibility before profit; news not well received by 'for-profit' businesses.

Stephen Wyman
16th January, 2014 @ 12:40 pm PST

This reminds me of a simple example of what happened a few years ago. They started irrigating to increase production. What they didn't consider was the tiny amount of salt in the water. After about 10 years of irrigating, the salt built up in the soil until production started dropping and after a few more years, nothing much will grow. Short term profit soon gave way to long term disaster. How long before all these agricultural chemicals build up until the ground is sterile and the crops are so genetically modified that they won't reproduce?

Bob
17th January, 2014 @ 09:39 am PST

The plants respond to stress by restricting growth. Short circuiting this response without understanding the long range consequences is foolish and dangerous.

This is the modus operandi of scientists who work for corporations. But even without corporate encouragement scientists tend to limit their focus on ever more narrow specialities. They are not concerned about how their work integrates with other fields or life. This narrow mindedness is a symptom of ignorance of philosophy. Making the problem worse is the lack of usefulness of most philosophical systems. An objective philosophical system is necessary, but hard to find. I recommend the father of science, Aristotle.

Don Duncan
17th January, 2014 @ 01:25 pm PST

The thing is iirc around 50% of all global food production is wasted. Either 'not pretty enough' for store shelves or thrown away. If these big corporates truly had our best interests at heart they would be focusing on waste reduction. Instead, we will continue to trash 50% of our food and implement GM crops to boost yields? Not only that but giving these corporations total control of the global food supply? Pure insanity.

Sean Ross
19th January, 2014 @ 07:48 pm PST
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