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Drugs used to treat human brain can help building stress-resistant crops

Posted April 7, 2018

It is not that uncommon for some specialized medicine to be found useful in treating other diseases. It is always great news, because approval process is easier and new therapies can be introduced much quicker. However, this new achievement is quite an unusual one, because scientists found that drugs used in the treatment of certain brain disorders can also alter the signalling process in plants under stress.

Dry and acidic soils cause stress to the plant, resulting in smaller harvest. Image credit: Myrabella via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Scientists from the University of Adelaide found that one human brain drug, used to treat such disorders as epilepsy, can change the stress response mechanism in plants. This research built on information gathered through previous studies that uncovered that plants respond to environmental stresses with a similar combination of chemical and electrical responses to animals. Plant stress is actually a big problem to deal with. Stress response reduces the yield from agricultural fields. In other words, environmental stress makes the harvest much worse, resulting in poorer quality of vegetables and crops.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter commonly found in mammals. Scientists found that plants use it too, but in a different way. This neurotransmitter in stressful situations, such as drought or salinity, acts as a signal in plants. The levels of GABA increase when plant senses acid in the soil or the environment becomes too dry. Up until now scientists didn’t know how exactly GABA levels changed in plants. However, GABA fluctuations are very important to humans as well and we do have drug therapies in place to regulate the levels of this neurotransmitter. Scientists found that delivering these drugs, used in humans and animals, builds stress tolerance in wheat.

Understanding the role of GABA in plants could help scientists create more stress tolerant crops. Dr Sunita Ramesh, lead author of the study, said: “Our study showed that the expression of the protein reduced GABA levels in the plant cells of roots in the toxic soil, by allowing GABA to move out of the cells. We suggest this is allowing communication of the degree of stress to other cells, enabling a metabolic response by the plant to the stress”. Scientists already know where this research could lead.

Since it seems like the same medicine can regulate GABA levels in humans and plants, further experiments could even have implications in the medical field. However, the main result should be crops that are not afraid of drought and acidic soil so much. This is especially important in the conditions of climate change.


Source: University of Adelaide

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