Hardy Plant's Lesson: It Thrives Under Stress

Researchers tap into its secrets, which could hold value amid climate change
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2022 1:55 PM CDT
Stress-Loving Plants May Hold Benefits for Us
Lake Tuz in Turkey, where a particularly resilient plant survives despite tough conditions.   (Getty/Naeblys)

No matter where they grow, most plants have a built-in mechanism that shuts down growth during periods of drought or other harsh conditions. Likewise, most plants will wither and die if those harsh conditions persist. This survival mechanism is controlled by abscisic acid, or ABA, a stress hormone. All land plants have it; however, for a few plants, ABA accelerates rather than slows growth. These are known as extremophytes, and they not only survive but thrive in harsh conditions. They could also hold a key to humankind’s ability to adapt to climate change, writes Ashley Strickland of CNN, reporting on a study in Nature Plants.

“With climate change … our crops are going to have to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions,” says co-author Ying Sun of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, per a news release from Stanford. “If we can understand the mechanisms that plants use to tolerate stress, we can help them do it better and faster.” The study focused on Schrenkiella parvula, which is loosely related to cabbage and broccoli but is native to the shores of Turkey’s Lake Tuz, where the water is up to six times saltier than the ocean and rain is a rarity.

Researchers found that S. parvula uses ABA as a “robust growth-inducing signal.” They hope to transfer this adaptability to other plants by tweaking genes that control the response to stress. The research was partly funded by the US Department of Energy, which seeks to develop new breeds of bioenergy crops that can grow quickly on otherwise useless land. These include certain oilseed species that could theoretically be engineered for use as biofuels, per Stanford. (Read more climate change stories.)

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