The Frankenstein’s monsters of the plant world, resurrection plants, are capable of surviving desiccation giving them a unique imperviousness to droughts. As worries regarding climate change mount, scientists are looking into ways to bolster crops against detrimental shifts in weather while continuing to produce satisfactory yields.
“Over coming decades, climate change models suggest that droughts and other unpredictable weather patterns will appear more frequently,” write Queensland Univ. of Technology researchers in PLOS Genetics. “Numerous studies have shown that stress tolerance is genetically encoded. Naturally tolerant species therefore represent an ideal starting point for the search for stress tolerance.”
Researchers are looking into how a grass plant—related to rice, sorghum and maize—manipulates its sugar metabolism to overcome drought conditions.
Tripogon loliiformis is a member of the Poaceae family, and is native to Australia and New Guinea. It grows in both rocky outcrops and nutrient poor soils, and has survived snap-freezing with liquid nitrogen and heating for short periods of time. According to the university, previous research proved the plant can survive losing up to 95% of its relative water content. Its preexisting tissues spring back to life when water is reintroduced.
“T. loliiformis survives extreme environmental stress by implementing autophagy to prevent programmed cell death,” the researchers write. When under drought conditions, the grass accumulates trehalose, a non-reducing sugar, which activates the autophagy process. According to the university, autography is “a process which allows the orderly degradation and recycling of plant cells.”
“Once induced, autophagy promotes desiccation tolerance…by removal of cellular toxins to suppress programmed cell death and the recycling of nutrients to delay the onset of senescence,” the researchers write.
According to Prof. Sagadevan Mundree, prolonged stress can result in excessive autophagy and death.
The researchers believe the autophagy mechanisms employed by T. loliiformis may aid in the development of stress tolerant crops.