Development of genetic engineering technologies of crops with environmental stress tolerance
Climate changes and ecological destruction such as desertification and salinization have been seriously damaging agriculture. In many developing countries, they are a main contributor to food insecurity and poverty. An important strategy to improve yield stability and increase production is to develop crop varieties with enhanced tolerance to environmental stresses such as drought, salinity and cold by genetic engineering.
The development of tolerant crops by genetic engineering requires the identification of key genetic determinants responsible for stress tolerance in model plants, and the application of acquired knowledge on food crops. Our continually updated technologies, such as microarrays and related methodologies, enable both global and detailed analyses of expression patterns and functions of genes and promoters to find the targets for generating stress-tolerant crops. To introduce the identified target genes and promoters into crops, we are also developing genetic engineering technologies for rice, wheat, soybean, sugarcane, etc.
One example of the fruit from these technologies is the identification and application of DREB genes, which code transcription factors that induce the expression of stress-responsive genes. Over-expression of the DREB genes increases the tolerance of transgenic Arabidopsis plants to drought, high salinity and cold. Although these genes were initially identified in Arabidopsis, their presence and function in stress tolerance are well conserved in many other important crops. Using the DREB genes, we are currently developing stress-tolerant soybean and rice.
In this project, we continue to develop technological infrastructure to facilitate identifying genes and promoters in stress responses, transferring them into important crops, and evaluating transgenic crops through field studies in collaboration with other institutes abroad, in order to produce stress-tolerant crops that can feed the hunger in developing countries.