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Trehalose - a sugar for all seasons

Trehalose - a sugar for all seasons - 26 June 2013. Rothamsted Research
News from: Rothamsted Research

Earlier work by researchers at Rothamsted Research, who receive strategic funding by BBSRC, discovered a biochemical mechanism through which sugars activate the genes that enable growth to occur. Building on this seminal advance, Rothamsted Researchers have discovered that the sugar signal trehalose 6-phosphate not only activates genes to promote plant and crop growth under good growing conditions, but also enables growth recovery after a period of stress. The work was undertaken in collaboration with colleagues at University College London, University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and ITQB in Portugal and is published today in the journal Plant Physiology.

During a growing season crops encounter many environmental conditions from cold and drought through to heat and flooding. A challenge of crop production is to ensure that crops can be productive no matter what the environment throws at them.

Sugars made in photosynthesis provide the energy and building blocks that drive the growth of the crops that we harvest. Growth processes that incorporate sugars into plant starches, cellulose, protein, oils and vitamins are sensitive to environmental variables and a key to crop improvement is to ensure that weather extremes do not have a large detrimental impact on crop yields.

The present study demonstrates that trehalose 6-phosphate in combination with a protein kinase, SnRK1, activates gene expression to enable rapid growth recovery following stresses such as low temperature. This finding will enable researchers to design more resilient crops that cope better with extremes of temperature and more variable climatic conditions predicted in the future.

Professor Matthew Paul at Rothamsted Research who led the study said "We are learning more and more about how sugars regulate plant growth. As a consequence modification of the trehalose pathway sugar signalling system is now one of the most promising areas for crop improvement, enabling crops to be both even more productive in good growing conditions and also resilient in poor weather.

"Extreme weather events that we have experienced in recent years are likely to become more common with the potential to reduce harvests. The possibility to offset the negative impacts of poor weather conditions on crop yield and to improve and protect crop harvests is really exciting" Mathew Paul added.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The paper was published by Plant Physiology pp.113.220657; doi:10.1104/pp.113.220657. For more information see the external contact below.