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Safeguarding Plant Immunity against Climate Change

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Heat waves increase the vulnerability of plants to infectious diseases by compromising their immunity. Short periods of high temperatures suppress the production of a defense hormone in plants called salicylic acid, although the mechanism has remained unclear, until now.

In an article published on June 29, 2022, in the journal Nature, “Increasing the resilience of plant immunity to a warming climate” scientists led by Duke University biologist Sheng-Yang He, PhD, claim to have identified a gene in plant cells that explains why immunity falters with rising heat, and demonstrate optimizing the expression of this gene could restore the production of salicylic acid and bolster immunity in plants against heat waves. The investigators conducted their experiments on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. If their findings in this model hold in crops, it would go a long way to ensure food security in a warming world, said He.

Earlier studies from He’s team has shown even brief heat waves can have a dramatic effect on hormone defenses in Arabidopsis, leaving them more prone to infection by the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae. Under normal ambient temperatures, salicylic acid levels increase nearly seven-fold upon infection, but when temperatures rise above 86°F, the plant can no longer produce enough of the defense hormone, and the infection spreads.

“Plants get a lot more infections at warm temperatures because their level of basal immunity is down,” He said. “So we wanted to know, how do plants feel the heat? And can we fix it to make plants heat-resilient?”

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