Video transcript: Breakthrough in the production of flood-tolerant crops

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November 2011

Mike Holdsworth, Director of Crop Sciences, University of Nottingham
My name is Professor Mike Holdsworth, I am the Director of Crop Sciences at the University of Nottingham we are interested in how seeds germinate,...

Video shows a scientist cultivating batches of plants in a controlled environment

...understanding the genetic control mechanisms for that and more generally how to understand plant responses to abiotic stress. Stresses in the environment like drought, high temperature, low temperature, water logging those kind of stresses that plant can't escape from as animals we can run around from these things, plants can't and they have evolved mechanisms to cope with these stresses so we are interested in trying to understand the genetic control mechanisms which the plants use to cope with these stresses, this is of course major agricultural importance flooding is predicated to be increasing hugely due to climate change, the crops that are flooded obviously die and that means there is nothing for people to eat after the flood has gone away and so understanding how plants perceive that their flooded and then how they response to that and then to try and change that through plant breeding so that plants are better able to respond to this kind of stress is a major target for our research and this recent research that we have carried out we think will be of major importance in that area and give tools to plant breeders to be able to manipulate plants so that they will be better able to cope with water logging.

Dan Gibbs, Post doctoral research fellow
I am Dan Gibbs I am a post doctoral research fellow here at Nottingham and the project I am working on it looking at the role of the N-end rule pathway which is a proteolysis pathway in plants, looking at the role of that pathway in the regulation of the response to flooding and low oxygen stress.

Video shows seedlings in trays, then also under the microscope with before and after examples demonstrating oxygen-stress. The roots are also examined to show the difference.

We work on a plank called Arabidopsis and we are going to show you some seedlings and in these particular plants we've got a marker which tells us when the plants are under oxygen stress and this marker turns blue. So this is a normal seedling under normal oxygen conditions you probably won't be able to see it very much as these seedlings have been bleached. What we can see it is completely clear so we know it's not under oxygen stress. Now if we take that seedling or plants of the same seedling type and put them under oxygen stress what we see is you see this induction of this blue signal throughout the plant so that is telling us that these plants know that they are under oxygen stress and they are kicking in and turning on all the genes that they need in order to respond to this so what we work on it a path way called the N-end rule pathway and we have been able to show that the plant uses this pathway as a way of sense when oxygen levels decrease and this pathway is important for their response. So if we take plants that don't have a functional N-end rule pathway so that they have been mutated what we see is that even under normal conditions that is throughout the roots they have the blue signal so this is telling us these plants are already displaying the de-oxygen depredation response so they think they are under oxygen stress if we then take these particular mutants and put them under oxygen stress we get even stronger induction of this signal throughout the plant. We find that these mutants because they always have these genes switched on they actually response better and have great survival rate when they are flooded and under low oxygen stress.

Question from interviewer
So it is not the discovery of the enzymes it is actually how it works?

Mike Holdsworth
Yes so this has been known for a number of years what this regulator is but nobody knew how it worked and so what we've done we've shown the biochemical process within which it works and how actually at the biochemical level through this oxygenation that the protein works.

Question from interviewer
How soon can we have crops that will function in this way?

Mike Holdsworth
Plant breeding takes many years what we done with our discovery is we've now given a target for breeders that they can use to specifically try and manipulate tolerance to water logging...

Video shows a scientist cultivating batches of plants in a controlled environment

...so whereas before for instance they knew this protein was important they didn't know why and in other crops they didn't know which proteins they should be looking at now we've given them that information we've said to them use our information to target those particular genes in those crops in your breeding programmes to try and look for increase resistance to water logging. This has taken us in slightly different direction to the work of the rest of the laboratory but very very exciting not only because our discoveries are really of major agronomic importance but also because the mechanism that we have discovered is so elegant and simple and it is very easy to explain how this system works and that's really very satisfying as a scientist to come to those end points to be able to show that you have solved an aspect of biology and also that aspect of biology is of important to agriculture.

This research, published in the journal Nature, was funded by BBSRC.