New chemical can force dormant seeds to sprout

Crop yields could be increased using new chemical

In a new study scientists have shown that it is possible to use a newly developed chemical to force dormant seeds to sprout thereby paving way for increase of crop yields in areas with unfavorable conditions and circumstances.

In a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers have shown that an otherwise dormant seed could spring to new life through the chemical they have discovered. A team led by UC Riverside scientists show that through their new chemical Antabactin they can influence an hormone in the seed and force the seed to sprout.

There is a hormone called ABA in plants that helps the plants to perceive drought. If the conditions aren’t right, the hormone will send a message to seeds that it isn’t a good time to germinate. This effectively means lower crop yields and less food in places where it’s hot. Scientists explain that if this ABA is blocked, then seed germination will happen and the new chemical Antabactin does just that.

The team was after a molecule that would interfere with hormone ABA and open pores, encourage germination and increasing plant growth. Though seed dormancy has largely been removed through breeding, it is still a problem in some crops like lettuce.

Sean Cutler, a UCR plant cell biology professor and study co-author, said accelerating and slowing plant growth are important tools for farmers. “Our research is all about managing both of these needs,” he said.

To find this molecule, Aditya Vaidya, UCR project scientist and study author quickly made 4,000 derivatives of a previously developed chemical that is known to act like ABA. “He found a needle in the chemical haystack,” Cutler said, “The compound he created blocks receptors to ABA, and is unusually potent.”

In their paper, the team members showed that applying Antabactin to barley and tomato seeds accelerated germination. Conceivably, both Antabactin and Opabactin could work together to help crops flourish in a world becoming drier and hotter.

Once Antabactin has helped seeds sprout into healthy plants, a farmer might start saving water early in the growing season by spraying Opabactin. This way, enough water is “banked” for when the plants start flowering.

The research team continues to investigate variations in seed dormancy induced by ABA in a variety of other plant species. They also want to examine Antabactin’s use as a chemical tool to increase plant growth in greenhouse settings where water isn’t limited.

“We hope to identify key molecular players that govern seed dormancy, ultimately reducing the impact of lost crop yields due to unfortunately timed plantings or poor seed germination,” Vaidya said.

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