Copycat plant booster improves on nature

September 28, 2020

A molecule that can mimic the function of zaxinone, a natural growth-promoting plant metabolite, has been designed and fabricated by an international team led by KAUST and the University of Tokyo. Their successful mimic may have wide-reaching applications in plant biology and agriculture.

"We identified zaxinone in a previous study and found that it both stimulates the growth of rice plants and appears to reduce infestation by the root parasite Striga (witchweed)," says Jian You Wang, Ph.D. student under the supervision of Salim Al-Babili. "It is tempting to jump in and say we can harvest zaxinone from plants, study its activity and use it to boost crop yields, but it is not that simple."

Living organisms produce growth regulating metabolites, such as zaxinone, at very low concentrations, and the molecules themselves are often short-lived and unstable. The team realized that to make full use of their discovery, they would need to design a synthetic molecule that can mimic zaxinone's function, rather than using the metabolite itself.

"We first identified the parts of zaxinone that are crucial for its activity and the other parts that can be replaced or modified," says Wang. "These results helped our team to design a series of easy-to-synthesize zaxinone mimics called MiZax."

The team trialed MiZax by adding them to soil and measuring their ability to improve root growth and limit Striga infestation in rice plants. Two of the mimics, MiZax3 and MiZax5, proved particularly effective, with MiZax3 performing even better than zaxinone itself.

"We were excited to see the excellent activity and stability of MiZax3, even when it was used at very low concentrations," says Wang. "It is important to note that we still do not know precisely how zaxinone itself works. MiZax3 will help us investigate the mechanisms behind zaxinone's activity and how it changes plant hormone patterns and metabolism."

"We will also perform controlled field and safety tests to evaluate MiZax activity on cereals and horticultural crops in greenhouse and research farms in the Kingdom," says Al-Babili. "MiZax will help us improve our understanding of the development, growth and biotic interactions of cereals, particularly rice."
-end-
Al-Babili is also going to integrate MiZax into a wider project he is leading, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on combating Striga in sub-Saharan Africa.

King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)

Related Rice Articles from Brightsurf:

C4 rice's first wobbly steps towards reality
An international long-term research collaboration aimed at creating high yielding and water use efficient rice varieties, has successfully installed part of the photosynthetic machinery from maize into rice.

Rice has many fathers but only two mothers
University of Queensland scientists studied more than 3000 rice genotypes and found diversity was inherited through two maternal genomes identified in all rice varieties.

Rice rolls out next-gen nanocars
Rice University researchers continue to advance the science of single-molecule machines with a new lineup of nanocars, in anticipation of the next international Nanocar Race in 2022.

3D camera earns its stripes at Rice
The Hyperspectral Stripe Projector captures spectroscopic and 3D imaging data for applications like machine vision, crop monitoring, self-driving cars and corrosion detection.

Climate change could increase rice yields
Research reveals how rice ratooning practices can help Japanese farmers increase rice yields.

Breeding new rice varieties will help farmers in Asia
New research shows enormous potential for developing improved short-duration rice varieties.

High-protein rice brings value, nutrition
A new advanced line of rice, with higher yield, is ready for final field testing prior to release.

Rice plants engineered to be better at photosynthesis make more rice
A new bioengineering approach for boosting photosynthesis in rice plants could increase grain yield by up to 27 percent, according to a study publishing January 10, 2019 in the journal Molecular Plant.

Can rice filter water from ag fields?
While it's an important part of our diets, new research shows that rice plants can be used in a different way, too: to clean runoff from farms before it gets into rivers, lakes, and streams.

Rice plants evolve to adapt to flooding
Although water is essential for plant growth, excessive amounts can waterlog and kill a plant.

Read More: Rice News and Rice Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.