Sunday, February 10, 2008

Israeli find could help plants adapt to climate change

Agence France-Presse: Israeli scientists said on Wednesday they had identified genes that help plants weather harsh conditions, a discovery that could lead to the development of crops better able to endure climate change. The study, carried out by scientists at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, found that mutating one of two genes in a model plant increased its ability to survive better in desert environments.

"We manipulated these genes to enhance the plant's own tolerance systems, making the plant more resistant to salinity, heat and drought," Simon Barak, the author of the study, said in a statement released by the university. "As we decode the exact mechanism linking the genes to the degree of tolerance, we will understand them better, but so far we have only had a tiny glimpse," he added.

The two genes are part of a family of some 50 genes whose precise function in plants is unknown, but which in other organisms regulate gene expression, including one which is similar to a gene linked to tumour growth in humans. "Ideally, we would like to create varieties of staple crops such as corn and rice that are more tolerant to multiple environmental stresses," Barak said. "The group has been researching the genome databases for some of these plants and has already found similar genes."

The development of plants better able to endure harsh desert conditions could prove extremely important to Israel and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa suffering from increasing shortages of water.

Sunrise over the Dead Sea, Ester Inbar, Wikimedia Commons

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