Gene research studies how crops respond to drought

University study could improve plants' resistances to harsh environments

Kansas State University geneticists and colleagues have found that by applying a genetic-analysis method used to study and prioritize the genes in humans, they can study how food production plants respond to drought, heat and other factors — giving scientists a greater chance at improving crops’ resistances to harsh weather and environments.

Researchers studied the corn genome using a relatively new method, called genome-wide associate studies, GWAS, which searches the entire genome for small, frequent variations that may influence the risk of a certain disease. This helps researchers pinpoint genes that are potentially problematic and may be the key in abnormal traits and diseases. ”Conducting routine, full-scale, genome-wide studies in crop plants remains challenging due to cost and genome complexity,” said Patrick Schnable, study senior author and professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. “What we tried to get out of this study is a broad view of which regions of crop genomes should be examined in detail.” 

Using the GWAS method for multiple analyses and complementary methods in identifying genetic variants, researchers were able to find that, on average, 79 percent of detectable genetic signals are concentrated at previously defined genes and their promoter regions. ”We used to think that genes are the only search priority and there were just many other less important or useless DNA sequences,” said Jianming Yu, associate professor of agronomy at Kansas State University and study senior author. “But now we are starting to see that these other regions harbor some important genetic codes in them. Canvassing without prioritizing can be cost prohibitive, however, and efficient GWAS in crops with complex genomes still need to be carried out by taking advantage of a combination of genome technologies available.”