Understanding enzyme could help produce frost-resistant crops

Last updated: 22 Oct, 2018

Researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) have found than an enzyme in plants, ATP Synthase, plays a critical role in how plants respond to the cold.


The discovery, published in New Phytologist, could be used to produce frost resistant crops, potentially saving the agricultural industry substantial sums of money every year and contributing to food security.


The new finding could help to reduce the impact of severe weather events, such as the record low temperatures that affected the Australian Wheatbelt this year and wiped out a million tonnes of wheat.



Dr Nicholas Taylor from UWA's School of Molecular Sciences and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (PEB) said that as the climate changes, understanding how plants respond to temperature is becoming increasingly important.


"In our study, we observed plants in near-freezing conditions and saw there was a decrease in the production of ATP, a plant cell's main energy currency, which led to reduced growth," Dr Taylor said.


"Based on the number of international studies, it was previously thought that other components of energy production were more sensitive than this enzyme, however we were surprised to identify ATP Synthase as the culprit."


The finding has led to new revelations about plant responses to temperature.


Dr Sandra Kerbler, from UWA and PEB, said the benefits of understanding a critical enzyme for energy production being so sensitive to cold was of great use to the agricultural industry and to the future of producing frost-resistant crops.


"The research has changes previous thoughts of how plants cope with temperature stress and has highlighted new angles for investigation," Dr Kerbler said.


"A better understanding of how a plant's energy production is altered in response to changing temperatures could inform how we breed plants that are more adaptive to climate change."


From a press release.


Read the paper: Kerbler, S. M., Taylor, N. L. and Millar, A. H. (2018) Cold sensitivity of mitochondrial ATP synthase restricts oxidative phosphorylation in Arabidopsis thaliana. New Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/nph.15509


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