April 10, 2006

Discovery of Anti-Freeze Gene May Be Boon for Crops

SYDNEY -- Australian scientists have discovered an "anti-freeze gene" that allows Antarctic grass to survive at minus 30 Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit), saying it could prevent multi-million-dollar crop losses from frost.

"It's a gene from the saltgrass that managed to colonise the Antarctic peninsula called Antarctic Hairgrass," said Professor German Spangenberg from La Trobe University in Victoria state.

"We identified a novel class of a gene protein which binds twice and that prevents ice crystal growth. It has the capacity to survive being frozen rock solid and then thawing. It prevents the damage from ice crystals," Spangenberg told Reuters.

The scientists implanted the "ice recrystallisation inhibition gene" into a host plant in Australia and replicated the anti-freeze properties.

"Now we understand how it works we can use this knowledge for crop improvement, for frost and cold tolerance," said Spangenberg.

Victoria Minister for Innovation John Brumby said the discovery of the "anti-freeze gene" could prevent millions of dollars in lost crops due to frost and wintry conditions.

"Over the next few years we should see the development and application of technologies for frost tolerance in crops based on the knowledge gained from the functional analysis of these anti-freeze genes," Brumby said in a statement.

Globally, between 5 and 15 percent of agricultural production is lost to frost each year.