Location: Plant Genetics Research
2011 Annual Report
This project is a collaborative effort between ARS and Colgate University and funded through the Harvey Picker Institute for Disciplinary Studies in the Sciences and Mathematics. This is the first year report. The primary objective of the project, for ARS, is to uncover the mechanisms by which different life stages of ferns survive desiccation. In doing so, we will uncover novel mechanisms for drought tolerance and address objective 2 of the parent project "Develop strategies and mechanisms for improving drought stress tolerance in maize." The ARS approach is to look at key genetic components of desiccation tolerance and to determine their regulation during dehydration under controlled drying conditions. Our initial studies were focused on isolating and characterizing dehydrin protein expression, both at the transcriptional and translational levels, in a number of ferns subjected to dehydration. After much work we focused our attention to the fern, Lomariopsis vestita, as it exhibits a unique expression of desiccation tolerance, going from tolerant to sensitive, as it transitions from an epiphytic to a terrestrial growth pattern. We considered the filmy ferns as a group as there are sister species within them that have different tolerance levels. We thoroughly explored the use of dehydrins as a marker of tolerance in these ferns and it has proven to be unsatisfactory on many levels. We recently moved to a different marker, the Early Light Inducible Protein (ELIP) gene family, which not only has shown great promise in this regard but also linked our work more closely to the ecophysiological and biochemical aspects of the project. The progress made was exactly as outlined for the ARS portion of the project and we made significant inroads into understanding how desiccation tolerance is regulated in plants. These studies will ultimately identify the regulation and genetic components of the complex phenotype of drought tolerance and its improvement in crops.