Insight could help develop new crops

Crops that can cope with sudden changes in the weather could be developed, thanks to fresh discoveries about plants.

University scientists have studied how tiny algae survive by renewing old or damaged cell proteins.

They say their findings could be useful in developing crops suited to climates in which weather changes quickly.

Researchers found that the speed at which protein renewal takes place dictates how quickly they can adapt to environmental changes, such as a sudden frost or drought.

Rates of renewal

Our findings will be useful in understanding more about how plants are programmed for survival.

Dr Sarah MartinCentre for Systems Biology Edinburgh

The team found that renewal rates vary between proteins according to their role and their location within cells.

Proteins that carry out photosynthesis, the process that converts sunlight into energy, renew quickly because they are at risk of light damage.

Conversely, proteins that protect DNA in plant cells are at little risk of damage, and renew slowly.

Crop varieties

The findings could help breed crops incorporating proteins that respond quickly to changing conditions.

Conversely, it could also assist development of high-yield crops in stable environments, where little adaptation to conditions is required.

Scientists made their discovery by developing a method to detect how quickly algae take up nitrogen, which is used to produce proteins, from their food.

The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

It was published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

Until now, we knew that plants replaced their old and damaged proteins, but we had no idea how long this process took for individual proteins, or how this varied between different parts of the plant.

Dr Sarah MartinCentre for Systems Biology Edinburgh