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New research identifies heat-tolerant wheat response


May 14, 2020
By Top Crop Manager

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In a study published on May 4 in The Plant Journal, a team of research scientists from Lancaster University in England detail how their work on molecular-level responses have brought them closer to developing heat-tolerant wheat.

Rubisco is an important enzyme involved in photosynthesis and must be activated to catalyze carbon dioxide fixation. Rubisco activase (Rca) is a protein that acts as an activator for Rubisco, telling it to work when the sun is out and shut down when the leaf is deprived of light to conserve energy.

The research team at Lancaster University found that, by swapping one amino acid of the 380 molecular building blocks that make up the Rca in wheat, the Rubisco enzyme was activated more quickly in hotter temperatures. The swap occurs between two wheat Rcas: one that is better at activating Rubisco, and one that is already fairly heat-tolerant but with poor Rubisco activation.

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Elizabete Carmo-Silva, the researcher who oversaw the project, believes that this discovery could help increase food system sustainability through more resilient wheat varieties that can handle climate change and increased production capacity using fewer land resources.

The work thus far has been strictly in a test tube environment, so the next step will involve introducing the change to wheat through genetic modification or CRISPR techniques. However, the team is examining both GMO and non-GMO options.

The research is part of a project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), which seeks to develop more productive crops through improved photosynthesis. The hope is that this research can be extended to other crops, making them more resilient and efficient through similar genetic alterations.

To read the open access article, visit The Plant Journal; to read a news article discussing these findings with Elizabete Carmo-Silva, visit the Food Navigator website.