New Waves December 2009

Breaking news about water resources research and education in Texas

TWRI grant recipient characterizes gene that increases plants’ drought tolerance

Kranthi Kiran Mandadi, a doctoral student in the molecular and environmental plant sciences program at Texas A&M University, recently researched the mechanics of an influential plant gene in order to improve the productivity and drought-tolerance of Texas crops.

Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) supported Mandadi’s project for the 2008-2009 academic year with a $5,000 grant provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of the National Institutes for Water Research annual research program. TWRI is the federally designated institute for water resources research in Texas.

Dr. Thomas D. McKnight, professor and associate head in Texas A&M’s biology department, served as Mandadi’s advising professor.

The researchers investigated how gene TAC1, a transcription factor, conferred drought tolerance in Arabidopsis thaliana, a common model plant used in plant biology and genetics. Prior to the study, Mandadi and McKnight proved that over-expression of the TAC1 gene in tobacco and tomato plants did result in vigorous drought tolerance without compromising crop yields. In this research, Mandadi said they aimed to characterize further how the gene pathway worked and then use the results to increase drought tolerance in other crops.

The researchers discovered that TAC1 directly targets BT2, a gene they found to be integral to the plant’s response to regulatory factors.

“We hypothesized that the TAC1-BT2 pathway in plants was crucial for drought tolerance,” Mandadi said. “Surprisingly, our current results demonstrate that BT2 has a much broader role in regulating multiple and diverse environmental signals such as light, hormones, nutrient status, and stresses.”

Mandadi plans to apply this basic knowledge to studying the BT2 pathway in other important crop species.

“Genetic engineering of BT2 pathway in crops may help generate plants that are more productive in nutrient limiting soils and/or resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses, including drought,” Mandadi said.

For more information on Mandadi’s research, visit TWRI’s USGS Research Grants Web page.

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