Agriculture The ancient plant sex gene that could help beat droughts

The ancient plant sex gene that could help beat droughts

Hardier crops in an ever-drier climate? Sounds clever, right?

Knowing more about an ancient plant sex gene could be the first step to make crops more drought tolerant and productive.

Researchers from the University of Tasmania have discovered a gene responsible for determining the sex of a plant – a breakthrough that could boost agriculture and forestry.

Plants have the ability to sense and respond to environmental clues – like temperature and light – and adapt accordingly.

The research shows that through the unknown gene, hormones are able to control the sex of plants. But, over time, plants evolved additional uses for the pathway.

Dr Scott McAdam, Associate Professor Timothy Brodribb and Dr Frances Sussmilch from the School of Biological Sciences led the international collaboration with German and American colleagues.

“This gene first evolved to control sex, but it was so good at informing the plant about the environment that plants now use it for other things like seed dormancy as well as the restriction of water loss from leaves,” Dr McAdam said.

“Understanding how these plant processes operate at a genetic level provides the critical first step towards making major improvements to drought tolerance in crop and forest species, or more ideal sex ratios in crops that produce both male and female flowers.”

“What is really exciting about our discovery is that we now know of a gene that regulates sex by hormone perception and that it has done this for a very long time, at least 370 million years.”You can read more about this study here.  [Story credit: University of Tasmania newsroom.]

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