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Plants use steroids to accumulate ‘winter fat’ fro frost protection

Plants cannot move to warmer places, therefore, they have to adapt to freezing temperatures. However, not all plants are able to do so, which causes a huge headache to millions of farmers around the globe. Now scientists from the Technical University Munich and the University of Nottingham have showed that brassinosteroids increase the resistance of plants against frost.

This tiny delicate plant became a research object for this study, because of its simple and undemanding nature. Image credit: Alberto Salguero Quiles via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

This tiny delicate plant became a research object for this study, because of its simple and undemanding nature. Image credit: Alberto Salguero Quiles via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

In a previous study scientists showed how common thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) shows improved plant growth when brassinosteroids are used. They were first identified back in 1979, but up until now scientists did not know how they work exactly. Now scientists started looking at the common thale cress and brassinosteroids again, but this time they want to see how plant adapts itself to freezing temperatures. The plant is perfect for the research: it is simple, undemanding, small and naturally can withstand low temperatures.

This research allowed scientists to discover and describe another effect of brassinosteroids, which were known as growth hormones only. Scientists exposed the plants to slowly decreasing temperatures. At first scientists noticed that the plant reduces its growth by changing the expression of genes for which DNA is transcribed to RNA within its cells. However, when plant is modified not to synthesize brassinosteroids, it could not withstand temperatures as low as the wild type. Scientists found that brassinosteroids regulate a specific protein, which controls the gene expression. It allows the plant to store some ‘winter fat’ on a molecular level, which protects it from the cold damage.

Although these results are interesting as they are, scientists say that they are very useful in the light of climate change. It is because frosts happen less predictably and at unexpected times, which causes significant harvest losses. Brigitte Poppenberger, one of the authors of the study, said: “our discovery that brassinosteroids boost both growth and cold resistance will open up new possibilities for bringing out both characteristics in plants”. In fact, a simple yet effective strategy could be simply spraying brassinosteroids on plants to protect them from frost.

Climate change is going to cause some huge problems for agriculture around the globe. And it is this kind of researches that are providing hope that even at the critical times there will still be possibilities to produce needed goods.

Source: tum.de