[ASC-media] Media release: Drought! Finding an Alarm Signal in Plant Cells

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Thu Jan 12 03:04:41 CET 2012

:: ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology
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Drought! Finding an Alarm Signal in Plant Cells

For immediate release 12/1/12

Scientists have found a molecular signal in plants which may act as a drought alarm, allowing them to adapt to drought conditions.

The signal was discovered while trying to understand how different parts of the cell "talk" to each other under drought conditions. 

This research was led by Dr Gonzalo Estavillo and Professor Barry Pogson at the Australian National University node of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (Estavillo et al. (2011) The Plant Cell). 

The researchers studied a relative of canola called Arabidopsis thaliana which was lacking a protein called SAL1. SAL1 usually breaks down a small molecule called "PAP" in the cell. 
As the protein was absent, "PAP" molecules began to build up. Surprisingly, this became a kind of drought alarm, triggering adaptations in the plant to save water. Consequently these plants survived 50% longer in drought conditions. 

Having discovered the signal, researchers then found that normal plants also accumulated PAP during drought conditions. The PAP molecule was able to move from the chloroplast to the nucleus, where drought-adaptation responses were triggered. 

"We intend to fully investigate the potential of this remarkable PAP signal," says Dr Estavillo. 
"This is a great time to be a plant scientist," he said.  "We have the technology to decipher tiny and crucial molecular pathways in cells and use this knowledge to improve plant breeding and genetics. After all, plants are our food and fuel future."

Image available on request: Dry, cracked earth. 

For more information, visit: http://www.plantenergy.uwa.edu.au/news/news_centre.html#drought	
Dr Gonzalo Estavillo (Research Scientist)  gonzalo.estavillo at anu.edu.au    (+61 2) 6125 5896  (+61 2) 6197 0122
Alice Trend (Science Communications Officer)	alice.trend at uwa.edu.au	(+61 8)  6488 4481

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