Each year crop yields are severely impacted by a variety of stress conditions, including heat, cold, drought, hypoxia, and salt. Reproductive development in flowering plants is highly sensitive to hot or cold temperatures, with even a single hot day or cold night sometimes being fatal to reproductive success. In many plants, pollen tube development and fertilization is the “weakest link”.
The focus of this project is on developing two strategies to improve stress tolerance in pollen. The first is to express “stress protection” genes to enable pollen to better cope with a stressful environment. A priority will be given to testing stress response genes from a resurrection plant, which displays a remarkable ability to desiccate during hot and dry conditions, and then rehydrate within hours of re-watering.
The second is to “rewire” a signaling pathway in pollen to more strongly activate the pollen’s internal stress responses. The signaling pathway involves a cyclic nucleotide gated channel (CNGC16), which was discovered in the UNR’s Dr. Harper lab, to regulate that activation of heat and drought stress response pathways in pollen.
This project was designed to provide novel and fundamental insights into mechanisms of stress tolerance, and provide potential tools of widespread use in engineering plants for increased reproductive success under conditions of temperature stress and drought. If successful, the tools developed here will have application to improving seed yields in many crops, including Camelina, which has been proposed as an oil seed biofuels crop for Nevada. Therefore, the research goals will also enable Nevada to become more energy independent by improving the production yields for a renewable biofuel crop.