Chemical discovery gets reluctant seeds to sprout

Images infrared showing increased transpiration (in Blue) in ANT-treated tomato and wheat plants Credit: Aditya Vaidya/UCR
A new chemical developed by UC Riverside's team will bring life to seeds that were otherwise dormant.

Plants can sense drought. They emit a hormone to help them retain water when they sense drought. The same hormone, ABA sends a signal to seeds that it is not a good time for them to germinate. This can lead to lower crop yields, less food in hot areas, and a longer list of potential hazards as a result climate change.

Aditya Vaidya (UCR project scientist, and study author) stated that blocking ABA can cause a disruption in the chemical pathway plants use to prevent seed germination. Antabactin is our new chemical. It does exactly that. We have proven that even dormant seeds can sprout if we apply it."

In a new paper, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes demonstrations of Antabactin’s effectiveness.

This research builds on the team's previous work that created a chemical mimicking the effects of the ABAhormone, which is produced by plants when they are under drought stress. Opabactin slows down a plant's growth to conserve water and prevent it from wilting. It works by inducing plants close small pores in their stems and leaves, which stops water from escaping.

The team then sought out a molecule to open pores and encourage germination, increasing plant growth. Although seed dormancy is now almost completely eliminated by breeding, it still affects some crops such as lettuce.

Sean Cutler, UCR plant cell biology professor, and co-author of the study, stated that farmers need tools to accelerate and slow down plant growth. He said, "Our research is about managing both these needs."

Vaidya quickly created 4,000 derivatives to Opabactin's other side. Cutler stated, "He found a needle within the chemical haystack." "The compound he made blocks receptors for ABA and is unusually powerful."

The team showed in their paper that Antabactin could be applied to tomato seeds and barley to accelerate germination. It is possible that both Opabactin and Antabactin could be combined to aid crops in a warmer and drier world.

After Antabactin has made seeds grow into healthy plants, farmers might spray Opabactin to conserve water during the growing season. This will ensure that enough water is available for plants to flower when they start blooming.

Vaidya stated that plants need more nutrition and water when they are flowering or about to bear fruit, just as a woman needs higher nutrition during pregnancy. This is true for all crops, but especially for economically important crops such as wheat and corn.

Researchers continue to study variations in seed dormancy induced in different plant species by ABA. They are also interested in Antabactin's potential use as a chemical tool for increasing plant growth in greenhouses without water restrictions.

Vaidya stated, "We hope to identify the key molecular factors that govern seed dormancy and ultimately reduce the impact on lost crop yields due too poorly timed plantings or poor germination."

Continue reading Game changer: A new chemical keeps plants plump

More information: Aditya S. Vaidya et. al., Click-to lead design of a picomolar ABA antagonist with potent activation in vivo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021). Information from the Journal: Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences Aditya Vaidya et. al, Click to-lead design of a Picomolar ABA antagonist with potent activation in vivo (2021). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2108281118

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