A group of UF/IFAS scientists are studying plant genes to help understand how to increase heat tolerance in plants.

In an ever-warming world, a groups of scientists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) are studying plant genes to help with breeding crops that  have a high tolerance to heat. UF/IFAS Horticulture Science professor Bala Rathinasabapathi, the senior author of the study, shared information on the study to find genes that affect heat tolerance in plants in a Specialty Crop Industry article. See the details below.

Finding Genes the Control Heat Tolerance in Plants

“Our program has been studying how plants respond to high temperature stress and designing new ways to improve the tolerance levels of crops,” Rathinasabapathi said in the article. The team studied how Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress, changed its gene expression when exposed to high temperatures, specifically 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

“When we placed plants under controlled conditions and increased the temperatures, we noticed that young leaves were affected much less than older leaves,” Rathinasabapathi explained. Thale cress is commonly used in the study of plant genetics as it grows quickly and its genetic makeup is understood.

“This observation prompted us to question the cause of such a difference. We rationalized that if we could identify the genes that are involved in young leaves’ tolerance to high temperature stress, it will provide testable ideas to improve heat stress tolerance of crops,” Rathinasabapathi said. The team then sampled young and old leaves at different times to see how the gene expression differed between young and old leaves, and to identify those genes responsible for an increased heat tolerance in plants.

“The current study provided us lists of specific genes that may have functions in heat stress tolerance in plants. In the future, we will aim to test those genes for their potential connections to heat stress tolerance in plants and even use them in breeding strategies,” Rathinasabapathi added.

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