Biotech Updates

New Gene Discovery to Help Develop Crops with Better Alkaline Tolerance

April 5, 2023

Scientists in China have identified a gene involved in alkaline tolerance in crops that may help improve yields in sodic environments through genetic engineering. The study, led by Prof. Xie Qi's team from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with seven other institutions, has been published in Science.

There are more than one billion hectares of saline and alkaline soil in the world, with about 60% classified as highly sodic. This prompts the development of saline- and alkaline-resistant crops as an urgent global challenge. However, alkaline tolerance in plants has not been well studied. The researchers first performed a genome-wide association study in a diverse sorghum panel and identified an important locus, Alkaline tolerance 1 (AT1), that encodes an atypical G protein γ subunit and controls alkaline tolerance. The AT1 gene has orthologs in other plants; in rice, it was named GS3.

Further experiments showed that the at1/gs3 allele produces a C-terminus truncation protein that contributes to the negative alkaline tolerance effect, while knocking out AT1/GS3 conservatively increased tolerance to alkaline stress in monocot crops, including sorghum, millet, rice, and maize. To assess the application of the AT1/GS3 gene in crops, field trials were conducted in saline and alkaline soils. The researchers found that nonfunctional mutants in a number of monocots, including sorghum, millet, rice, and maize, can significantly improve the field performance of crops in terms of biomass or yield production than their not modified controls when grown in sodic soils.

For more details, read the article in the Chinese Academy of Sciences Newsroom.

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