Reprogramming plants for drought tolerance


Transgenic Arabidopsis on the right survived drought vs non-transgenic on the left

Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually.

Drought is a major environmental stress factor affecting plant growth and development. When plants encounter drought, they naturally produce abscisic acid (ABA), a stress hormone that inhibits plant growth and reduces water consumption. Specifically, the hormone turns on a receptor (special protein) in plants when it binds to the receptor like a hand fitting into a glove, resulting in beneficial changes — such as the closing of guard cells on leaves, called stomata, to reduce water loss — that help the plants survive.

While it is true that crops could be sprayed with ABA to assist their survival during drought, ABA is costly to make, rapidly inactivated inside plant cells and light-sensitive, and has therefore failed to find much direct use in agriculture. Several research groups are working to develop synthetic ABA mimics to modulate drought tolerance, but once discovered these mimics are expected to face lengthy and costly development processes.

The agrochemical mandipropamid, however, is already widely used in agricultural production to control late blight of fruit and vegetable crops. Could drought-threatened crops be engineered to respond to mandipropamid as if it were ABA, and thus enhance their survival during drought?

Yes, according to a team of scientists, led by Sean Cutler at the University of California, Riverside.

The researchers worked with Arabidopsis, a model plant used widely in plant biology labs, and the tomato plant. In the lab, they used synthetic biological methods to develop a new version of these plants’ abscisic acid receptors, engineered to be activated by mandipropamid instead of ABA. The researchers showed that when the reprogrammed plants were sprayed with mandipropamid, the plants effectively survived drought conditions by turning on the abscisic acid pathway, which closed the stomata on their leaves to prevent water loss.

The finding illustrates the power of synthetic biological approaches for manipulating crops and opens new doors for crop improvement that could benefit a growing world population.

One of the growing areas of research wherein scientists work to adapt plants to conditions not otherwise considered arable or useful for cropping. Drought-tolerance is only one of the areas. There are folks working to encourage food crops in both high-salt and high-alkaline environments.

Farmers have historically followed the roads that lead to simplest and easiest profits – once agriculture evolved beyond sustenance family farming. That generally put the focus on the most arable land, good water access, etc.. Opening up new lands, new climates, broader soil chemistry and temperature permits growing food for more.

Hopefully, common sense prevails over religion, culture and dirt-poor economics while family size continues to diminish – along with demand.

Dumb crook of the day

Police caught up to a man trying to flee assault charges because he posted a selfie on Facebook while sitting on a Greyhound bus out of town…

We like it when dumb criminals assist us in our investigation,” Ambridge police Chief James Mann told the Beaver County Times…

Mann told The Associated Press that the suspect, 22-year-old Donald Harrison, had been living in the borough about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh when he was charged with assaulting a woman and refusing to let her leave her apartment after an argument on Jan. 24.

An hour after the woman called police, police learned that Harrison, who is originally from Spartansburg, South Carolina, posted the Facebook message, “IT’S TIME TO LEAVE PA.”

Police couldn’t find him right away, but Mann said the woman called him Sunday afternoon after she noticed the Facebook selfie with the message saying, “OMW TO SPARTANSBURG SC SAY A PRAYER FOR ME.”

Mann said the picture appeared to show Harrison sitting in a bus or airplane and, acting on a hunch, he called the Greyhound bus terminal in Pittsburgh and learned a bus to Spartansburg had left 15 minutes earlier. After learning it would stop in Youngstown, Ohio, Mann explained the situation to Greyhound and arranged for Youngstown police to arrest Harrison on a warrant he faxed them.

The woman Harrison assaulted has several fractured vertebrae…and Chief Mann expects to add charges of aggravated assault when they complete extraditing his sorry butt from Ohio. He’s already charged with simple assault, unlawful restraint and reckless endangerment.

Creep!

What the hacks in Congress really mean when they say – “Audit the Fed”

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Remember “Audit the Fed”? It was the call that united populists of the right and left (and quite a few terrified centrists) around the cause of congressional investigators poking around the inner workings of the Federal Reserve, including its setting of interest rate policies.

And it’s back, with a new campaign from Senator Rand Paul (whose father led the earlier version) to push for a bill to do just that in a now-Republican-led Congress. But to make sense of the debate, here’s the simple fact you need to keep in mind: When people say they want to audit the Fed, what they really mean is “The Fed is doing things I disagree with.”

It’s easy to say that the Fed is a very secretive, mysterious institution. That has certainly been true historically, and in some respects remains true today. But in most of the ways that matter, the Fed is actually more transparent about what it decides to do, why and how it carries those policies out than almost any other institution in government.

…You can go to the New York Fed’s website and see the Fed’s securities holdings down to the individual exact bond holding. That’s how I know, for example, that as of Feb. 4 the Fed owned precisely $449.94 million worth of United States Treasury notes that mature April 30, 2015. The CUSIP code is #912828MZ0, in case you happen to know what a CUSIP code is (it is a numbering system to identify a particular bond or other security.)

Perhaps you don’t believe that information, and assume that the banksters at the New York Fed are lying to us all. Well, O.K., but keep in mind that those financial statements are audited already, in 2013 by Deloitte & Touche, one of the giant accounting firms that verify the books of virtually all major companies in America. Oh, and checking up behind them are the Fed’s inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, the same agency that Senator Paul would like to give greater powers to look into the Fed’s business…

After a monetary policy meeting, the central bank immediately releases a statement of several hundred words announcing what it has done, why and which of its officials voted against the action. Four times a year, the chairwoman, Janet Yellen, stands up immediately thereafter and takes questions from reporters for an hour or so. You may not like the answers, and she can duck a question as effectively as any public official, but she at least faces them.

Also four times a year, the Fed releases a bunch of details of Fed leaders’ forecasts, telling you what they expect to happen in the future with growth, inflation, unemployment and their own interest rate policy…

This legislation pressed by Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and their lying subalterns has only one purpose. They want to corrupt the independence of the Federal Reserve and put control of monetary policy into the dirty hands of Congress.

Can you imagine Congress – especially a version like the present crop of do-nothings – trying to construct monetary policy to drag our sorry butt out of the Great Recession? The recession resulted from Congressional refusal to lead oversight of the financial industry. The Fed had to construct what little rescue they could because our elected representatives were afraid to do anything useful on their own.

Now, they want to end the Fed’s political independence. And they lie – again and again – and call this an “audit”. Humbug!