GardenDrumRNA discovery that could help plant salt and drought tolerance

A side-by-side comparison of thale cress plants whose level of a specific RNA was increased. Photo: Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

Scientists have discovered a ribonucleic acid, or RNA, that can increase a plant’s resistance to drought and salt stress.

The discovery by Texas A&M AgriLife Research Scientists in Dallas, who used the thale cress plant for their research, could help with future engineering of drought- and salt-tolerant plants, including food crops.

“This is the first finding of a long non-coding RNA, or lncRNA, that regulates plant tolerance to adverse, non-physiological external factors,”

said Dr. Liming Xiong, AgriLife Research associate professor.

Published in the journal Plant Physiology, the lncRNA that Dr Xiong’s team discovered in thale cress plants existed in low numbers under non-stress conditions, but levels increased when the plants encountered drought or salt stress, he said. Manually increasing the level of the lncRNA showed corresponding increases in drought and salt tolerance compared with plants where the lncRNA level was unaltered.

The basic difference between small and long non-coding RNA is the number of nucleotides – the structural building blocks of RNA. Long have more. Xiong said investigating the effects of lncRNA is a novel approach to plant drought and salt tolerance research.

“Most of the current work on improving plant stress tolerance does not focus on lncRNA but on the genes that code protein production,” he said. “However, manipulation of those protein-encoding genes often impairs plant growth and development.”

But the lncRNA studied by Xiong’s team can be tweaked without any apparent detriment to the plant’s health, he said.


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