The last time you were thirsty, you probably opened your fridge for an ice cold Pepsi or even filled up your water glass from the sink. This seems like a simple task, but to a plant this can be a life or death situation. Drought affects areas in our own country as well as countries abroad. Southern China is currently experiencing their worst drought in almost 100 years. One rural farmer comments that in years past he has sold his wheat crop for $585 and this year it is only worth $30.
In a collaborative effort between Villanova and Drexel universities, researchers are beginning to discover a new way to combat this problem. Published in the American Journal of Botany in March 2010, their research began with a plant called the “resurrection fern” (Polypodium polypodioides) which can lose 95% of its water content without experiencing cell death. One of the main scientists from Villanova explains that this is truly a miraculous property. He says, “Imagine this happening to a human. Most of us wouldn’t make it past 10% or 20%.” Similarly, most common agricultural crops cannot survive water loss of 20-30%.
They used research techniques such as western blotting, immunolocalization, and atomic force microscopy to identify proteins that help the resurrection fern survive in extreme drought condition.
A class of proteins called dehydrin has been previously identified to participate in this miraculous drought resistance. However, this study was able to identify the location of dehydrin proteins during the process of dehydration. They found that the proteins were “prevalent” in the plant’s cell wall. This is an important discovery that may lead to new findings about the mechanism of this reaction.
Information about this protein class has positive implications for common agricultural plants that currently don’t have protection against drought. Dehydrins, and the mechanism of their role in drought resistance, could be the answer for thirsty plants worldwide as research continues.
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