Can plants be tweaked to better tolerate heat and resist heat stress? The question is becoming more and more relevant, as global warming threatens to decrease crop yields – and the global number of mouths to feed will only increase.
A new study from the Dept. of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering has identified plant genes that could strengthen our agricultural response to this threat. One in particular stands out: protein disulfide isomerase-9, or PDI9, which the researchers discovered can provide heat protection during pollen development, one of the most heat-sensitive processes in plants.
“The PDI9 enzyme is involved in folding the enzymes that control the construction of the pollen cell wall, and therefore plays a central role in the cellular and metabolic mechanisms that facilitate heat stress acclimation and ‘thermotolerance’ in plants,” explains lead researcher David Christopher.
He adds, “Since we can use PDI9 as a tool to decipher the genetic, molecular and cellular mechanisms that determine thermotolerance, we can potentially leverage this biotechnology to develop improved crops with enhanced ability to resist heat stress.”
The ultimate goal is to maintain crop productivity to help the more populated world cope with global warming.
“I’m particularly grateful for the 10 members of the research team who worked very cohesively together in MBBE,” David adds, “including two graduate students and the four undergraduates who got their first taste of molecular and cellular biology research by enrolling in MBBE 499.”
Read the full article, The Arabidopsis Protein Disulfide Isomerase Subfamily M Isoform, PDI9, Localizes to the Endoplasmic Reticulum and Influences Pollen Viability and Proper Formation of the Pollen Exine During Heat Stress, which appears in a recent issue of Frontiers in Plant Science.
Arabidopsis flower with male part (anther and pollen) is stained with blue indicator dye, which indicates where the PDI9 gene is expressed.
Two pollen grains. Photo is taken with a scanning electron microscope to show normal fertile pollen (left) and heat stressed infertile pollen (right).