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PLANT BIOLOGY

resistance and other survival traits

and may inform the development of new,

hardier crops that can weather natural

disasters wrought by climate change.

The team used a commonly studied

plant called

Arabidopsis thaliana

and

obtained varieties that lacked the

enzyme that processes phaseic acid,

in effect accumulating large amounts

of phaseic acid. To the group’s surprise,

the plants showed changes to the timing

of seed germination and they survived

without water for a longer period. This

suggests that phaseic acid, rather than

an inactive degradation product, could

be a molecule that has its own capacity

to cause changes like other plant

hormones.

DISREGARDED PLANT MOLECULE

ACTUALLY A TREASURE

The enzyme that degrades phaseic acid (blue)

appears briefly in response to light during early

seed germination. The picture on the left was

taken one day after plant seeds were transferred

from a dark environment to light; the picture

on the right was taken on the second day.

Research by Joseph Noel, first author

Jing-KeWen and colleagues published

August 2016 in the journal

Cell

reveals

an unexpected role for a small, often

overlooked molecule called phaseic acid,

which has historically been cast

as an inactive byproduct in plants.

The new findings suggest that phaseic

acid and its receptors probably co-

evolved to become crucial for drought

9

INSIDE SALK

WINTER 2016

WWW.SALK.EDU

Salk researchers discover that a plant

molecule once regarded as a biological

dead end now offers new leads into the

development of hardier plants.