Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have fooled soybean plants into thinking they were under attack by temporarily silencing the expression of a critical gene. After selectively crossbreeding those plants with the original stock, the progeny "remember" the stress-induced responses and become more vigorous, resilient, and productive. This epigenetic reprogramming of soybean plants, the world's most widely grown legume, was accomplished by changing how existing genes are expressed, instead of introducing new genes. Researchers found that when they down-regulate or turn off the expression of the gene MSH1, the plant becomes "convinced" it is encountering multiple stresses, even though it is growing under perfect conditions. This amplifies the expression of gene networks to respond to multiple stimuli. The soybean lines derived from crossing with the "memory" plants were grown in large populations in four different field conditions at four widely separated locations in Nebraska, and they proved to be more vigorous, higher-yielding, and better adapted to their environment than typical soybean plants. (Source: Crop Biotech Update, International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
Photo Credit: Tephen Kirkpatrick / USDA National Resource Conservation Service