UMD to lead $5 million NSF-funded research partnership to develop drought-tolerant canola crops

October 25, 2010

The University of Maryland has received a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to lead a multi-institutional research partnership that will aid in developing agricultural crop plants able to withstand drought conditions. The project will focus on guard cells in the canola plant (Brassica napus). Canola is an important oilseed crop grown for both human consumption and biodiesel production. June Kwak, associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland, will lead the research group that will analyze the cellular activity and gene expression in guard cells that influence how plants respond to drought.

Plants lose water through microscopic pores on their leaves that allow water to evaporate and carbon dioxide to enter for photosynthesis. The pores, called stoma, are regulated by "guard cells" which surround each pore and close under drought conditions, thereby promoting plant water conservation.

"Our ultimate goal is to understand how guard cells, and thus plants, respond to drought," says Kwak. "We also want to translate this knowledge to generate plants and crop species that are tolerant of drought, plants that could use water more efficiently."

Drought causes severe damage to crops, resulting in major losses in yield. In addition, fresh water scarcity is one of the major global problems of the 21st century, affecting more than 1.1 billion people worldwide. Climate experts predict that as global temperatures rise, there will be more areas affected by drought globally and that there will be increased variability in the amounts and distribution of precipitation. This will result in profound impacts on global fresh water resources, over 65% of which are used for agriculture. There will be increased competition for water from municipal, industrial, and agricultural users. Kwak says that we lose billions of dollars to drought every year in the United States.

"While I don't think that you can have 100% control over the impact of drought, what if you can have 10 or 15 percent more control over this? It would mean a lot to farmers and to the nation's natural resources," Kwak says.

To accomplish their goal, investigators will analyze guard cell activities in response to drought, including dynamic changes in RNA molecules, proteins, and metabolites in the canola plant and develop a genome scale view to understand how cellular networks and hormones regulate the plant's reaction under low water conditions. These data sets will be used, together with advanced genome sequencing approaches, to map genetic lines in Brassica napus and to identify natural variation in sensitivity to drought and in the speed at which water evaporates from stoma. Models generated from integrating this genomic, bioinformatic, and proteomic information will provide important information and a blueprint for improving water use efficiency and resistance to drought in crops.

In addition to Kwak, five other biologists will contribute their expertise to this effort, including Sarah M. Assmann (Penn State University), Joel S. Bader (Johns Hopkins University), John K. McKay (Colorado State University), Scott C. Peck (University of Missouri, Columbia), and Julian Schroeder (University of California, San Diego).

Their collaboration should provide a much more comprehensive understanding of guard cell signaling than scientists have discovered to date.

"These analyses will lead to comprehensive data sets for environmental stress-induced changes that occur in guard cells. Initial studies using guard cell-specific genomic approaches have shown that this type of research leads to important advances and breakthroughs in understanding drought stress signaling in plants," says co-investigator Julian Schroeder.

These research activities will generate a new "systems biology" view of a single plant cell type that can be used to manipulate guard cells and to develop practical universal strategies for improving water stress tolerance in a variety of crop species. Each site will broaden the impact of this research by conducting active outreach activities, such as engaging high school students and undergraduates from under-represented groups in the project. All data sets, protocols, and biological resources will be released to the public through a project website (http://www.brassicaguardcell.org/) and through the relevant long-term data repositories that include the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center (ABRC), the Multinational Brassica Genome Project (http://www.Brassica.info), Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO), IntAct (http://www.ebi.ac.uk/intact/main.xhtml) and BioGRID (http://www.thebiogrid.org).
-end-


University of Maryland

Related Drought Articles from Brightsurf:

Redefining drought in the US corn belt
As the climate trends warmer and drier, global food security increasingly hinges on crops' ability to withstand drought.

The cost of drought in Italy
Drought-induced economic losses ranged in Italy between 0.55 and 1.75 billion euros over the period 2001-2016, and droughts caused significant collateral effects not only on the agricultural sector, but also on food manufacturing industries.

Consequences of the 2018 summer drought
The drought that hit central and northern Europe in summer 2018 had serious effects on crops, forests and grasslands.

Songbirds reduce reproduction to help survive drought
New research from the University of Montana suggests tropical songbirds in both the Old and New Worlds reduce reproduction during severe droughts, and this - somewhat surprisingly -- may actually increase their survival rates.

Predicting drought in the American West just got more difficult
A new, USC-led study of more than 1,000 years of North American droughts and global conditions found that forecasting a lack of precipitation is rarely straightforward.

Where is the water during a drought?
In low precipitation periods - where and how is the limited available water distributed and what possibilities are there for improving retention in the soil and the landscape?

What does drought mean for endangered California salmon?
Droughts threatens California's endangered salmon population -- but pools that serve as drought refuges could make the difference between life and death for these vulnerable fish.

With shrinking snowpack, drought predictability melting away
New research from CU Boulder suggests that during the 21st century, our ability to predict drought using snow will literally melt away.

An evapotranspiration deficit drought index to detect drought impacts on ecosystems
The difference between actual and potential evapotranspiration, technically termed a standardized evapotranspiration deficit drought index (SEDI), can more sensitively capture the biological changes of ecosystems in response to the dynamics of drought intensity, compared with indices based on precipitation and temperature.

Sesame yields stable in drought conditions
Research shows adding sesame to cotton-sorghum crop rotations is possible in west Texas

Read More: Drought News and Drought 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.