University of Nevada, Reno Professor Given Exclusive Opportunity for Ice Plant Research

In *All, Agricultural Systems by AgIsAmerica

A professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, has been picked for a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) through their Plant Flagship Genomes program. The proposal by Professor John Cushman in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology was one of the 37 selected out of 123 original letters of intent submitted, and 98 full proposals received.

The JGI holds a yearly competition for its Community Science Program for researchers who are exploring solutions to energy and environmental challenges, while also giving them access to high-quality resources to continue their area of research. Professor Cushman’s proposal focuses on the common or crystalline ice plant and its demonstrated tolerance to stressors such as salinity and drought.

The importance of the ice plant, which originated in the Namibian desert in Africa, is that it is the first reported plant species that could be induced to switch from C3 photosynthesis to CAM, which occurs when introduced to salinity stress or water-deficit. Most plants use the C3 pathway, which occurs during the day. But this results in water-loss due to daytime transpiration which keeps plants cool in the sun. On the other hand, the CAM pathway takes up carbon at the night, thereby avoiding water losses that normally occurs due to evapotranspiration. CAM plants limit water loss by keeping their stomata closed during most of the day, and only opening them at night when evapotranspiration is low since sun is not shining. Thus, CAM plants are more water-use efficient.

By understanding the genetics parts important for doing CAM, scientists have the potential and intention to reengineer these genes back to a C3 photosynthesis plant like wheat or rice and make those more water-use efficient.

For more information on Dr. Cushman’s work and the University of Nevada, Reno, read more here.

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