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Press Release 11-216
Progress Towards Developing Plants That Accommodate Climate Change

The genetic basis of a plant's adaptability to climate is identified

Illustration showing two plants, one dying, the other thriving, determined by small number of genes.

Relatively few genes control whether these plants struggle or thrive in heat and other climates.
Credit and Larger Version

October 6, 2011

The ability to promote agricultural and conservation successes in the face of rapid environmental change will partly hinge on scientists' understanding of how plants adapt to local climate.

To improve scientists' understanding of this phenomenon, a study in the Oct. 7, 2011 issue of Science helps define the genetic bases of plant adaptations to local climate. The National Science Foundation partly funded the study, which was conducted by Alexandre Fournier-Level of Brown University and colleagues.

The study involved growing a diverse panel of strains of the mustard plant, Arabidopsis, in various locations within its native range in Finland, Germany, England and Spain. Then, the genetic mutations increasing plant fitness in each of these locations were identified.

Results show that the preferred climate of each strain of Arabidopsis is conferred by the presence of a relatively small number of genes; different sets of genes control adaptability to different types of climates; and the presence of a particular set of climate genes in a single plant is not necessarily mutually exclusive to the presence of another. These findings mean that it may be possible to combine various sets of climate genes in a single Arabidopsis strain in order to generate a strain that would be able to thrive in multiple types of climates. Such adaptability would help the plant accommodate climate change.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Lily Whiteman, lwhitema@nsf.gov, (703) 292-8310, lwhitema@nsf.gov
Richard Lewis, Brown University, (401) 863-3766, Richard_Lewis@brown.edu

Principal Investigators
Johanna Schmitt, Brown University, (401) 863-2425, Johanna_Schmitt@brown.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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Cover of the October 7, 2011 issue of the journal Science.
The researchers' work is described in the October 7, 2011 issue of the journal Science.
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