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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Use Big Data to Map Corn's Response to Heat Stress

June 6, 2018

Plant scientists at Iowa State University (ISU) have completed a new study describing the genetic pathways at work when corn plants respond to heat stress, a step that could lead to crops better capable of withstanding stress. The research project mapped the stress response detected by the endoplasmic reticulum, an organelle in cells of corn seedlings.

To mimic stressful environmental conditions, the researchers applied a chemical to corn seedlings and then tracked the activity of around 40,000 genes using several high throughput technologies. This is one of the first studies on maize stress to be carried out at this level, said Renu Srivastava, an assistant scientist in the ISU Plant Sciences Institute and a co-author of the study. The scientists exposed the plants to persistent stress and found the plants could adapt – at least for a time. However, with persistent stress, the cells eventually "give up," which quickly leads to cell death, Srivastava said.

The research was a multilevel study in which the scientists analyzed massive datasets to account for the expression of tens of thousands of plant genes. The size of the study required a multi-institutional effort that included scientists at Iowa State, Michigan State, and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

For more details, read the ISU news release.