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Key genes involved in desiccation tolerance and dormancy across life forms

Maria Cecília D. Costa, Jill M. Farrant, Melvin J. Oliver, Wilco Ligterink, Julia Buitink, Henk M.W. Hilhorst
Plant science 2016 v.251 pp. 162-168
Arabidopsis thaliana, coevolution, crops, dormancy, drought, drought tolerance, energy metabolism, genes, models, phenotype, proteins, resistance mechanisms, seasonal variation
Desiccation tolerance (DT, the ability of certain organisms to survive severe dehydration) was a key trait in the evolution of life in terrestrial environments. Likely, the development of desiccation-tolerant life forms was accompanied by the acquisition of dormancy or a dormancy-like stage as a second powerful adaptation to cope with variations in the terrestrial environment. These naturally stress tolerant life forms may be a good source of genetic information to generate stress tolerant crops to face a future with predicted higher occurrence of drought. By mining for key genes and mechanisms related to DT and dormancy conserved across different species and life forms, unique candidate key genes may be identified. Here we identify several of these putative key genes, shared among multiple organisms, encoding for proteins involved in protection, growth and energy metabolism. Mutating a selection of these genes in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana resulted in clear DT-, dormancy- and other seed-associated phenotypes, showing the efficiency and power of our approach and paves the way for the development of drought-stress tolerant crops. Our analysis supports a co-evolution of DT and dormancy by shared mechanisms that favour survival and adaptation to ever-changing environments with strong seasonal fluctuations.