Grand Rapids, Mich. (Dec. 3, 2009) Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) researchers have determined precisely how the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) works at the molecular level to help plants respond to environmental stresses such as drought and cold. Their findings, published in the journal Nature, could help engineer crops that thrive in harsh environments around the world and combat global food shortages. The findings could also have implications for stress disorders in humans.
VARI scientists have determined the structure of the receptors that plants use to sense ABA, a hormone that keeps seeds dormant and keeps buds from sprouting until the climate is right. Locating these receptors and understanding how they work is a key finding one that has eluded researchers for nearly a half-century. This discovery is crucial to understanding how plants respond when they are under stress from extreme temperatures or lack of water.
"The plant community has been waiting for this discovery for many years," said VARI Research Scientist Karsten Melcher, Ph.D., one of the lead authors of the study. "It could have major effects on nutrition and crop yields, especially as fresh water sources become scarcer."
"The work by Dr. Xu and his colleagues, published in one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, will undoubtedly become known as an historic defining moment in our understanding of the mode of action of the important plant hormone abscisic acid," said Grand Valley State University Plant Development Biologist Sheila A. Blackman, Ph.D. "They show how the signaling molecule and its receptor initiate a cascade of events that ultimately affects the expression of genes that are critical for a plant's survival under harsh conditions. This work has enormous implications for global food supply."
Melcher works in the VARI Laboratory of Structural Biology led by Distinguished Scientific Investigator H. Eric Xu, Ph
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Van Andel Research Institute