Drought is a major environmental stress factor affecting the growth and development of farm crops and other plants. In a draught-like situation, plants naturally secrete abscisic acid (ABA), a stress hormone that closes guard cells on leaves, called stomata, inhibiting plant growth and reducing water consumption. While crops can be sprayed with ABA to help them survive draughts, producing ABA is expensive. A team of scientists, led by Sean Cutler at the University of California, Riverside, developed a new method of assisting draught-inflicted plants using synthetic biology. They engineered the ABA receptors in plants to be activated by the widely used agrochemical, mandipropamid, which is a fungicide, as it readily bonded to the ABA receptors. The reprogrammed plants sprayed with mandipropamid effectively survived drought conditions by turning on the ABA pathway. Although some scientists are skeptical about this method, the novel use of synthetic biology is a promising approach for crop improvement in the age of climatic changes and global water shortage.
Read more in Science Daily.