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Scientists show how plants survive in sub-optimal soil conditions

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Posted January 21, 2016

Evolution leads to adaptation to even harshest environmental conditions. Despite long and extensive studies, scientists are still not entirely sure about the mechanisms how plants and animals adapt themselves to survive in bad conditions. Now scientists from the University of Adelaide demonstrated how plants manage to protect themselves from boric acid and other elements that become toxic in the soil.

Barley is one of the food crops that are mostly tolerant to high levels of boric acid in soils. By developing better and more resilient plants, farmers could increase their yields and nutrition value of food crops. Image credit: EugeneZelenko via Wikimedia, GFDL

Barley is one of the food crops that are mostly tolerant to high levels of boric acid in soils. By developing better and more resilient plants, farmers could increase their yields and nutrition value of food crops. Image credit: EugeneZelenko via Wikimedia, GFDL

This research is not only interesting from scientific perspective. In fact, boric acid results in significant revenue losses in crop fields around the world. Results of this study may help farmers to protect their plants better and to increase crop yields. Appropriate steps will not only secure higher yields, but will also increase nutritional value of edible crops.

Professor Maria Hrmova, leader of the research team, said: “The transport of nutrients and toxins in plants is critical for their survival. It is regulated by transporter proteins that are responsible for directing water and nutrients into plants, and removing toxins, but until now only a handful of these proteins had been characterised and we don’t know how the majority of proteins function”.

In order to improve edible crop yields certain manipulation of these transporters is needed. However, scientists say that it is actually a very difficult task, because they are embedded in plasma membranes. This makes it extremely difficult to handle and manipulate them. Scientists sought to understand how these transporters work and developed computational, biophysical and biochemical tools. Using a variety of methods, researchers managed to describe boric acid toxicity tolerance of these transporters.

Research revealed that the transporter function relies on the presence of sodium. This creates certain energy barrier, which permits an efficient exclusion of borate from plant cells back to soil. Scientists say that quantum tunnelling process may be used in the emitting borate back to soil. This makes plan more resilient and, in case of edible crops, more nutritious.

Results of this research are very important for crop growers. They show how crop can be tolerate to high levels of boric acid in soils, which eventually should allow developing more resilient crops, which would ensure better yields and nutrition value even in sub-optimal soil conditions. Having in mind changing climate conditions and growing world population may lead to shortage of food, such researches are extremely helpful.

Source: adelaide.edu.au

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