New Delhi: With the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events causing severe damage to crops worldwide, a new study has paved way to enhance flood tolerance of more crops species through genetic engineering.
In a new research published in peer-reviewed journal, Science, scientists studied how other crops behaved when submerged in water and found that the plants- a wild-growing tomato used for farming and a plant similar to alfalfa - all share at least 68 families of genes in common that are activated in response to flooding.
The rice variety chosen for research was one that is grown in tropical countries like India where it is well-adapted to endure monsoons and water-logging. Scientists found that some of the genes involved in that adaptation exist in few other plants but have not evolved to switch on when the roots are being flooded.
"We hope to take advantage of what we learned about rice in order to help activate the genes in other plants that could help them survive water logging," said lead author Professor Julia Bailey-Serres at University for California, Riverside.
The team examined the cell structure at the tip of the roots of the plant which are first to respond to excess water and contain cells that can help a plant become more resilient to flooding. They studied the genes in these root tip cells to understand whether and how their genes were activated when covered with water and deprived of oxygen.
"We looked at the way that DNA instructs a cell to create particular stress response in a level of unprecedented detail," said co-author Mauricio Reynoso from UC Riverside.
The genes involved in flooding adaptations are called submergence up-regulated families (SURFs).
"Since evolution separated the ancestors of rice and these other species as many as 180 million years ago, we did not expect to find 68 SURFs in common," said co-author Neelima Sinha, professor of plant biology at UC Davis.
Though the SURFs were activated in all the plants during the flooding experiments, their genetic responses weren't as effective as in rice. The wild tomato species that grows in desert soil withered and died when flooded.
The group now plans additional studies to improve the survival rates of the plants that currently die and rot from excess water. “Imagine a world where kids do not have enough calories to develop," said Bailey-Serres. "We as scientists have an urgency to help plants withstand floods, to ensure food security for the future."