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A novel approach to trigger a survival response in plants and crops

This is Science Today. Plant cell biologists at the University of California, Riverside have discovered a gene that triggers a stress tolerance hormone that helps plants survive during drought. Sean Cutler, who led the study, says their lab is working on a technology that goes beyond genetic and chemical approaches that would cause this survival response in plants and crops.

Cutler:            What we're trying to do is a little more space age, which is we want to try and engineer the receptors so that they can respond to chemicals that are already used by farmers in the field. And the logic there is that although people don't like chemicals, and I understand why, there are some that are better than others and some that have less side effects environmentally and in agricultural use.

Narrator:       Cutler's lab is hoping to make those good chemicals act as switches to control the signaling pathway that they discovered.

Cutler:            My innocuous example is that we spray the field with lemon oil and the plants can withstand drought...that's sort of the fantasy, and actually I don't think it's unrealistic and I hope that's what we'll be working on in the next year or so, proving that.

Narrator:       For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.