Study of small molecules discovers big treasures in crops

7 Jun 2017

Rice plants in potsA new international proof-of concept study involving University of Queensland research has used micro-molecules to improve crop yields in rice, one of the most widely consumed staple foods, particularly in Asia.

Professor Jimmy Botella of UQ’s Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory in the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences said the study, led By Professor Jian-Kang Zhu from the Shanghai Center for Plant Stress Biology, Chinese Academy of Science, had produced a new collection of rice lines.

"The collection comprises a treasure trove for further studies as well as valuable agronomic traits," Professor Botella said.

Professor Botella said that apart from normal genes, living organisms, including plants, had evolved small molecules made of genetic material.

"One kind of such molecules are called microRNAs and they were discovered only 15 years ago in plants," he said.

"Current knowledge of microRNAs is still quite limited due to the technical complexity of the methods used for their study".

"Plant microRNAs (miRNAs) control intricate gene networks and have been implicated in important developmental switches and stress responses.

"They have recently emerged as promising targets for crop improvement because they can control complex agronomic traits."

Professor Botella said the research group involving scientists from China, Australia and the U.S., had silenced 35 miRNA families in rice to generate a resource for discovering new functions of miRNAs and targets of agronomic improvements.

Bowl of rice"As a proof of concept, we show that manipulation of a promising miRNA (known as miRNA398) leads to important yield improvements," he said.

"Future analysis of the transgenic lines generated in this study for responses to biotic and abiotic stresses, nutrient use efficiency, photosynthetic efficiency, and other factors is bound to reveal new and exciting improvements."

Professor Botella was involved as part of his “Visiting Professorship for Senior International Scientists” awarded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The study, Short tandem target mimic rice lines uncover functions of miRNAs in regulating important agronomic traits is reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1703752114).

Media: Professor Jimmy Botella;, +61 7 3365 1128