How Bananas Weather a Drought

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Science  31 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6098, pp. 1020-1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6098.1020-d

Agriculture is a thirsty business. Despite being grown in the humid tropics, bananas (genus Musa) are susceptible to even mild drought and can require irrigation. A few strains dominate commercial banana production, but much greater banana biodiversity is represented in the Musa International Germplasm collection. Analyzing the genetics driving drought resistance in bananas is challenging, however, because of their growth requirements. To overcome this, Vanhove et al. analyzed in vitro banana plantlet growth rates in response to mild osmotic stress. The results pointed toward variants known to be more tolerant of irregular water availability in field settings. Analysis of leaf proteomes showed differences between stressed and nonstressed plantlets, with most of the proteome variation attributable to a handful of proteins. Annotations of these proteins suggested that pathways involving photodynamic damage and oxidative stress were activated in the osmotic stress response. Placing their work in context, the authors distinguish between drought survival mechanisms and water use efficiency. Plants that use survival mechanisms—such as closing stomata—to withstand drought are likely to show reduced yield. The variants identified here, however, can tolerate temporary and mild water deficiencies without sacrificing plant growth and yield.

Front. Plant. Sci. 3, 176 (2012).

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