Researchers eye canola for drought insight

Looking at the plants’ day and night cycles is shedding light on 
how plants respond to moisture stress

U.S. researchers hope canola plants will show how plants react to early drought stress.

Your canola crop could hold the key to understanding how plants react to drought stress.

That’s according to researchers at Dartmouth University who are looking at how early drought stress affects brassica rapa.

The research, recently published in the journal eLife, looks at the full day and night cycle of the plants to see how they react when drought stres­sed. By looking at early reactions to less severe conditions, the researchers hope to see early reactions.

“Even before a plant shows visible signs of wilting, there are extensive changes in terms of gene expression and physiology,” said C. Robertson McClung, a professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College. “This research considers all the factors in early drought response.”

The team withheld water from the plant for four days and recorded observations during the third and fourth day. By tracking the plant’s reactions to water stress throughout the 48-hour period, the research team was able to identify nighttime plant activity indicating that brassica may respond to early-stage drought by closing the stomata more fully at night. Stomata are pores on a plant that allow for the exchange of carbon dioxide and water.

During the same observations, the team identified genes that responded to drought, but that also switched on and off consistently according to the time of day even when well watered. During drought, the normal behaviour of these genes was either amplified or muted.

“Many genes are turned on or off at different times of the day based on the circadian clock,” said McClung.

Eventually the research may lead to drought-tolerant crops.

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