Proteins that help plants grow under salt stress identified

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Melbourne, Sep 5 (IANS) While high salt in soil threatens to reduce the growth and yield of crops, researchers have now identified a protein family that may help plants grow under slat stress.

“More and more of the world’s crops are facing salt stress with high salt in soils (also known as salinity) affecting 20 percent of the total, and 33 percent of irrigated, agricultural lands worldwide, ” said lead researcher Staffan Persson, professor at University of Melbourne, Australia.

“By 2050 it is estimated that we need to increase our production of food by 70 percent to feed an additional 2.3 billion people. Salinity is a major limiting factor for this goal as more than 50 percent of the arable land may be salt afflicted by the year 2050,” Persson noted.

“It is therefore of great agricultural importance to find genes and mechanisms that can improve plant growth under such conditions,” Persson explained.

A previously unknown family of proteins named “Companions of Cellulose synthase” (CC) supports the cellulose production machinery under salt stress conditions, the research revealed.

“We show that these proteins, which we called CC proteins, are part of the cellulose synthase complex during cellulose synthesis,” Persson said.

The researchers discovered that the CC gene activity was increased when plants were exposed to high salt concentrations.

Thus, the research team hypothesised an involvement of these proteins in salt tolerance of plants.

“To prove this hypothesis we deleted multiple genes of the CC gene family in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress), and grew the plants on salt-containing media. These mutated plants performed much worse than the wild-type plants,” co-first author of this study Christopher Kesten, student in Persson’s research group, explained.

The study was published today in the journal Cell.

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