Rendering some of the world’s toxic soils moot, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and Cornell researchers are learning to grow stress-tolerant crops on formerly non-farmable land.
In this effort, when plant scientists searched the maize genome for clues as to why some plants can tolerate toxic aluminum in soil, they found three copies of the same gene known to affect aluminum tolerance, according to new USDA/Cornell-led research.
Aluminum toxicity comes close to rivaling drought as a food-security threat in critical tropical food-producing regions…
“We found three functional copies that were identical,” said senior author Leon Kochian, director of the…USDA-ARS Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory at Cornell. “This is one of the first examples of copy number variation contributing to an agronomically important trait.”
The finding points to the importance of looking for multiple copies of a gene for higher expression of certain traits. “This could be a key factor for other traits of agricultural importance,” said Kochian.
The research came out of a long collaboration on aluminum tolerance with Embrapa Maize and Sorghum in Brazil, which provided the aluminum-tolerant maize germplasm where the 3-copy allele was discovered…By sequencing the genomic regions that harbor the MATE1 gene in aluminum-tolerant and aluminum-sensitive plants, lead author Lyza Maron found a similar MATE1 allele…in both types of plants. But when she examined copy number variation, she found the aluminum-tolerant plant had three copies, while the intolerant plant had only one copy of the MATE1 allele.
Bravo! Lousy soil chemistry is as difficult a problem in many lands as water shortage.