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Universal mechanisms mediating the early response of plant roots to environmental stresses

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Abiotic stress, a result of common adverse environmental situations, represents the most limiting factor for agricultural productivity worldwide. Stresses associated with temperature, drought and salinity, singly or in combination, are likely to enhance the severity of problems to which plants will be exposed in the coming decades. The sessile nature of plants necessitates their ability to respond to diverse conventional and newly-emerged abiotic stresses from the environment throughout their life cycle. Currently, key insights into the mechanisms that enable plants to execute appropriate adaptive physiological and developmental responses remain myopic. Roots deliver water and nutrients, two of the most essential, but often-limiting factors that a plant needs. Their close proximity to the soil suggests that roots could be the sites for initial environmental stress perception and subsequent adaptive responses. The identification of orthologous genes controlling the same aspect of root development in several distantly related species has indicated the existence of conserved mechanisms in root development for all plant species, and underscores the importance of Arabidopsis root research with respect to further potential strategies for improvement of crop roots, which have recently emerged as the key to a Second Green Revolution. Of the five major plant hormones, ABA is particularly interesting because its levels have been reported to peak shortly upon stress exposure, uncommon to others. It has been well established that ABA , as a stress hormone, plays a pivotal role in physiological responses to abiotic stresses such as light, cold, drought and high salinity, in addition to its central role in seed development, dormancy, and germination, and plant pathogen defense. Unfortunately, despite its key involvement in plants and great advances in the areas of plant physiology, protein structural biology and molecular genetics, there remains a gap in the current understanding of the initial ABA response, its downstream processes and potential crosstalk with other growth regulators at the developmental, cellular and sub-cellular levels. To bridge this gap, and in view of findings on the antagonistic interactions between ABA and other plant hormones such as auxin and gibberellin during various developmental processes, we are currently exploring if ABA acts as the primary stress-activated hormone in triggering other growth regulators using the root system of Arabidopsis thaliana as a research model. We aim to reveal universal mechanisms controlling hormonal-interaction at different cell layers and in cells at different developmental stages in early response to various environmental stresses. Our recent progress will be presented and discussed.

This talk is part of the Sainsbury Laboratory Seminars series.

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