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Genetic pathways from extremophile plants: new approach for crops genetic engineering to abiotic stress tolerance

Grant number: 20/07578-1
Support Opportunities:Regular Research Grants
Duration: May 01, 2021 - April 30, 2023
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Biochemistry - Molecular Biology
Convênio/Acordo: Universidad de la Frontera
Principal Investigator:Helaine Carrer
Grantee:Helaine Carrer
Principal researcher abroad: León Aloys Bravo Ramírez
Institution abroad: Universidad de La Frontera (UFRO), Chile
Host Institution: Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz (ESALQ). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Piracicaba , SP, Brazil
Associated researchers: Marjorie Maranela Reyes Diaz ; Michel Francisco Abanto Marin


Plants are sessile organism that in order to be able to colonize extreme environments they have developed morphological, physiological and metabolic traits that confer them the ability to withstand extreme habitat being able to grow and reproduce under these conditions. They are called extremophile plants. A trade-off (Inverse relationship) between plant productivity and stress tolerance has been observed in nature. This phenomenon seems to be associated with the fact that resources those plants can obtain are limited, then when plants allocate its resources to photosynthesize and growth, they cannot develop efficient tolerance mechanism and vice versa. However, there is a group of plants that has escaped from this trade-off, and they are considered "outliers", because they can maintain a significant stress tolerance without sacrificing photosynthetic capacity. In a screening we have identified several of these outliers associated to extreme environments such as Antarctica, dry desert in Northern Chile and high elevation in the mountains. These species are remarkably interesting because they have developed tolerance mechanisms that do not affect their capacity to have a high primary production. They have developed very economical protective strategies in terms of resource allocation. This is exactly the kind of trait useful to increase crop tolerance to drought or other factors associated to climate change without losing significant productivity. This is a challenge today to ensure food security for the next century. In this proposal, we will study genes associated to the capacity of outlier species to tolerate stress with limited compromise of photosynthetic capacity. We will compare outlier species Deschampsia antarctica; Colobanthus quitensis and Prosopis tamarugo with their closest congeneric (or phylogenetically related) species under optimal and stress conditions and will evaluate their gene co-expression network using a transcriptomic approach. Then, we will use gene discovery tools to distinguish important genes associated to outlier traits. Candidate genes will be selected, characterized, and validated using a transgenic approach by transforming model plants such as A. thaliana, N. tabacum and S. lycopersicon to analyze how transgenes modify stress tolerance and to validate their functions. The experience of two consolidated research groups will be put together in this proposal. The ESALQ team with a vast experience in transforming model and crop plants and the UFRO team with vast experience working on the physiological stress tolerance and extremophile plants. We expect this merged strategy provide a crucial environment to catalyze synergies and more important the environment to form young scientists who can obtain experiences from these two scientific groups. (AU)

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