Exposing plants to an unusual chemical early on may bolster their growth

Just like any other organism, plants can get stressed. Usually, it’s conditions like heat and drought that lead to this stress, and when they’re stressed, plants might not grow as large or produce as much. This can be a problem for farmers, so many scientists have tried genetically modifying plants to be more resilient.

However, plants modified for higher crop yields tend to have a lower stress tolerance because they put more energy into growth than into protection against stresses. Similarly, improving the ability of plants to survive stress often results in plants that produce less because they put more energy into protection than into growth. This conundrum makes it difficult to improve crop production.

I have been studying how the plant hormone ethylene regulates growth and stress responses in plants. In a study published in July 2023, my lab made an unexpected and exciting observation. We found that when seeds are germinating in darkness, as they usually are underground, adding ethylene can increase both their growth and stress tolerance.

Plants can’t move around, so they can’t avoid stressful environmental conditions like heat and drought. They take in a variety of signals from their environment, such as light and temperature, that shape how they grow, develop, and deal with stressful conditions. As part of this regulation, plants make various hormones that are part of a regulatory network that allows them to adapt to environmental conditions.

Read more at theconversation.com

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