Investigating whether whole genome duplication (WGD) in plants leads to greater fitness
Lead researcher: Dr Sina Fischer
Whole genome duplication (WGD) in plants is an incredible process in which all the chromosomes, and therefore all the genes, are duplicated throughout a single event. We know that WGD took place several times during the evolution of land plants but we don’t know how plants survived this massively disruptive process.
Plant fitness is measured by an individual’s reproductive success ie. how many seeds it can produce. A scientific publication (Chao et al, 2013) showed that plants that have very recently undergone WGD (these are called neo-tetraploids) have greater fitness under salt stress. Many agricultural soils suffer from intake of salt, particularly in coastal regions. Irrigation also leads to salinization, and it is becoming more common everywhere due to climate change-related drought.
Farmers are naturally seeking plants which can maintain their growth under high salinity, as neo-tetraploids can. Our research is therefore focused on understanding the changes which occur in neo-tetraploids and how they relate to salt stress. We hope these discoveries will lead to hardier, agriculturally-important plants, for example salt-tolerant tomatoes or barley.
Funded by the Royal Society and the Future Food Beacon