Hormone May Help Crops
By Kathryn Barry
January 10, 2001
Basic discoveries about the plant
hormone abscisic acid could one day help wheat growers prevent crop damage from
cold, drought and other environmental stresses.
Researchers with ARS and the
National Research Council of Canada have
uncovered clues to how the plant hormone works. A certain part of the molecule,
they found, regulates whether a wheat seed sprouts. By modifying that region
biochemically, the scientists were able to keep the abscisic acid active
longer, delaying sprouting damage to wheat.
ARS plant physiologist Kay Simmons also discovered the first protein kinase
involved in plant responses to abscisic acid during drought and cold. Breeding
plants with more of this protein may aid a crops tolerance to adverse
conditions. Simmons and colleagues have cloned the genes that control
production of this protein kinase. ARS has applied for a patent on their use in
conjunction with Washington State University
in Pullman, Wash., and Washington
University in St. Louis, Mo. (patent application no. 09/427,495).
Simmons and colleagues also participate in an international effort to
decode the wheat genome. Her team contributes genetic information on wheat
seeds with varying levels of abscisic acid.
An article on this research appears in the January issue of Agricultural Research, the
agency's monthly magazine.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Scientific contact: Kay Simmons, National Program Staff, Beltsville,
Md., phone (301) 504-5560, fax (301) 504-6191,