Progress Towards Developing Plants That Accommodate Climate Change

October 7, 2011

The genetic basis of a plant’s adaptability to climate is identified

The ability to promote agricultural and conservation successes in the face of rapid environmental change will partly hinge on scientists’ understanding of how plants adapt to local climate.

To improve scientists’ understanding of this phenomenon, a study in the Oct. 7, 2011 issue of Science helps define the genetic bases of plant adaptations to local climate. The National Science Foundation partly funded the study, which was conducted by Alexandre Fournier-Level of Brown University and colleagues.

The study involved growing a diverse panel of strains of the mustard plant, Arabidopsis, in various locations within its native range in Finland, Germany, England and Spain. Then, the genetic mutations increasing plant fitness in each of these locations were identified.

Results show that the preferred climate of each strain of Arabidopsis is conferred by the presence of a relatively small number of genes; different sets of genes control adaptability to different types of climates; and the presence of a particular set of climate genes in a single plant is not necessarily mutually exclusive to the presence of another. These findings mean that it may be possible to combine various sets of climate genes in a single Arabidopsis strain in order to generate a strain that would be able to thrive in multiple types of climates. Such adaptability would help the plant accommodate climate change.

Image Caption: The adaptability of a strain of the Arabidopsis plant to any particular climate is determined by a relatively small number of genes–in most cases, around 100 genes. In this study, these genes were identified in various strains of Arabidopsis. Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation

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Source: NSF

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