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Common weed may be ‘super plant’ that holds key to drought-resistant crops

Gewone wiet kan 'superplant' zijn die de sleutel vormt tot droogteresistente gewassenzooFari/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0” width=”800″ height=”530″/>

Portulaca oleracea, an edible plant grown almost all over the United States. Blooms yellow, small flowers. Credit: ZooFari/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

A common weed harbors important clues about creating drought-resistant crops in a world ravaged by climate change.

Yale scientists describe how Portulaca oleracea, commonly known as purslane, integrates two different metabolic pathways to create a new type of photosynthesis that allows the weeds to weather drought while remaining highly productive, they report Aug. 5. in the magazine Scientific progress.

“This is a very rare combination of traits and has created a kind of ‘superplant’ — one that could potentially be useful in efforts like crop technology,” said Erika Edwards of Yale, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior author of the paper.

Plants have independently evolved a number of different mechanisms to enhance photosynthesis, the process by which green plants use sunlight to synthesize nutrients from carbon dioxide and water. For example, corn and sugar cane developed the so-called C4 photosynthesis, which allows the plant to remain productive under high temperatures. Succulents such as cacti and agaves possess another type called CAM photosynthesis, which helps them survive in deserts and other areas with little water. Both C4 and CAM have different functions but recruit the same biochemical pathway to act as “add-ons” for regular photosynthesis.

What makes the Weed Purslane unique is that it possesses both evolutionary adaptations, making it both highly productive and highly drought tolerant, an unlikely combination for a plant. Most scientists believed that C4 and CAM operated independently in purslane leaves.

But the Yale team, led by co-corresponding authors and postdoctoral scientists Jose Moreno-Villena and Haoran Zhou, conducted a spatial analysis of gene expression in purslane leaves and found that C4 and CAM activity are fully integrated. They act in the same cells, processing products of CAM reactions by the C4 pathway. This system provides unusual levels of protection for a C4 plant in times of drought.

The researchers also built metabolic flux models that predicted the emergence of an integrated C4+CAM system reflecting their experimental results.

Understanding this new metabolic pathway could help scientists devise new ways to manipulate crops such as corn to withstand prolonged drought, the authors say.

“When it comes to incorporating a CAM cycle into a C4 crop, such as maize, there is still a lot of work to be done before that can become a reality,” said Edwards. “But what we have shown is that the two routes can be efficiently integrated and products can be shared. C4 and CAM are more compatible than we imagined, which leads us to suspect that there are many more C4+CAM types waiting to have been discovered.”

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More information:
Jose Moreno-Villena et al, Spatial resolution of an integrated C4+CAM photosynthetic metabolism, Scientific progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciaadv.abn2349. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abn2349

Provided by Yale University

Quote: Common weed may be ‘super plant’ holding key to drought-resistant crops (2022, August 5) Retrieved August 5, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-common-weed-super-key- drought-resistant .html

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