Research NewsPlant Biology

Transferred Gene Helps Plants Weather Cold Snaps

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Science  03 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5360, pp. 36
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5360.36

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On page 104, a research team reports that it has created a new, cold-hardy strain of the small plant Arabidopsis by genetically engineering it to overproduce a protein that activates at least four other genes that help the plant withstand the damaging effects of freezing temperatures. Usually, those genes come on gradually when the plant is exposed to slowly declining temperatures, but in the new strain they are active all the time, enabling it to survive sudden temperature drops to as low as -8 degrees Celsius--4colder than the normal killing temperature for Arabidopsis. Although it may not be so easy to improve the cold tolerance of crop plants, plant physiologists say that making crops even a little hardier could make a big difference in helping them weather the sudden cold snaps that cause the biggest crop losses.