Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan have identified a gene that provides plants resistance to stress.
Reported in the journal The Plant Cell, the study attains significance as it may some day lead to the development of agricultural and forestry crops that are more tolerant of environmental stresses like ultra-violet light and other types of radiation.
"Our next step is to see if plant genes we've isolated also play a similar role in fighting infections. In previous research, our team and others have shown that similar genes in human and animal cells play an important role in protection against both viral and bacterial infections," said microbiologist Wei Xiao.
The researchers used Arabidopsis-a widely accepted research model plant, which is closely related to canola-and characterized four genes suspected of playing a role in the plant's stress responses.
It was observed that upon being subjected to a DNA-damaging stressor, the plants with one of the four genes turned-off produced seedlings that grew slower and often dies, compared with a control group.
"This tells us that these genes likely play an important role in maintaining the genetic stability of the plant and protecting the plant from stress," said Xiao.
The plant gene products under study bind with a protein called Ubc13, which has recently been found to control activation of the immune response. This protein has also been linked to an increasing number of human diseases, including Parkinson's and breast cancer.
The researchers say that the next step in their research will be to determine whether turning on or off any of the other three genes affects the plant's resistance to environmental stresses, including viral and bacterial infections.
In a previous study, Xiao used cultured mammalian cells to study cancer and immunity. However, owing to the risk of embryo damage due to gene deletion, the research team later turned its focus on the plant model.
Noting that plant, animal and human studies were increasingly converging around gene-based research, Xiao said: "This study demonstrates for the first time that we can study this group of genes at the whole organism level, rather than just at the cellular level, which could have applications down the road for human and animal medicine in fighting cancer and infections."