A team of experts at the University of Nottingham and the University of California, Riverside, has identified the molecular mechanism plants use to sense low oxygen levels, which could eventually lead to the production of high-yielding, flood-tolerant crops.
The discovery could benefit farmers, markets and consumers across the globe.
The mechanism controls key proteins in plants causing them to be unstable when oxygen levels are normal.
When roots or shoots are flooded and oxygen levels drop these proteins become stable.
“We have identified the mechanism through which reduced oxygen levels are sensed. The mechanism controls key regulatory proteins called transcription factors that can turn other genes on and off,” said Michael Holdsworth, Professor of Crop Science in the School of Biosciences at Nottingham.
“It is the unusual structure of these proteins that destines them for destruction under normal oxygen levels, but when oxygen levels decline, they become stable.
“Their stability results in changes in gene expression and metabolism that enhance survival in the low oxygen conditions brought on by flooding. When the plants return to normal oxygen levels, the proteins are again degraded, providing a feedback control mechanism,” he explained.
The research is recently published in the prestigious journal Nature.