Plant Biology
Plant Biology
To match human population growth, world agricultural production must double over the next quarter century. At Salk, we study plants so that humans will have the food, clothing, energy and medicines they need now and in the future.

Disregarded plant molecule actually a treasure

Salk researchers discover that a plant molecule once regarded as a biological dead end now offers new leads into the development of hardier plants.

Research by Joseph Noel, first author Jing-Ke Wen and colleagues published August 2016 in the journal Cell reveals an unexpected role for a small, often overlooked molecule called phaseic acid, which has historically been cast as an inactive byproduct in plants. The new findings suggest that phaseic acid and its receptors probably co- evolved to become crucial for drought resistance and other survival traits and may inform the development of new, hardier crops that can weather natural disasters wrought by climate change.

The team used a commonly studied plant called Arabidopsis thaliana and obtained varieties that lacked the enzyme that processes phaseic acid, in effect accumulating large amounts of phaseic acid. To the group’s surprise, the plants showed changes to the timing of seed germination and they survived without water for a longer period. This suggests that phaseic acid, rather than an inactive degradation product, could be a molecule that has its own capacity to cause changes like other plant hormones.

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