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AMU professor behind discovery of salt tolerant protein in barley

A farmer works in a field of barley at the Hemis Shukpachan village in Ladakh. File   | Photo Credit: AFP

The discovery of a new plant protein by an Indian scientist, in collaboration with researchers from Germany, is set to improve the salt stress tolerance of crops and has opened possibilities of making farmland with high salinity amenable to cultivation.

Assistant Professor with the Department of Botany at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Dr Tariq Aftab, working with seven other collaborators from Germany, identified the new protein, HvHorcH, which plays an important role in conferring salt stress tolerance in barley.

The research was carried out at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben in Germany when Dr Aftab was a Guest Scientist at the Institute having been awarded the Leibniz-DAAD Research Fellowship in 2012-13. After several subsequent years of further studies and trials, the new discovery was reported in the September issue of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

After completing his Ph.D from AMU, Dr Aftab worked as a Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources in New Delhi where he was involved in acquisition, evaluation and identification of climate resilient wheat and rice genetic resources for tolerance to heat, drought and salt stresses. He has also worked as Visiting Scientist at the Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, East Lansing on a Raman Fellowship awarded by the University Grants Commission.

Tell us about the relevance of the protein discovery

Salt stress tolerance of crop plants is a trait with increasing value for future food production. The area of farmland worldwide that can be cultivated is declining because of increasing drought periods and the increasing salinity of the soil in several regions of the earth. Global climate change, which is predicted to be accompanied by prolonged and intensified drought periods, is likely to aggravate this situation even further. Intensified irrigation attempts to combat drought ultimately increase soil salinity and thus eventually impede farmland cultivation when salinity reaches threshold levels that can no longer be tolerated by crop plants.

It is, therefore, an eminent goal for a global sustainable food supply to improve the salt stress tolerance of crop plants in order to push these thresholds of soil salinity upwards so that more farmland with high-salinity soil will still be amenable to agriculture.

How is it an addition to the existing knowledge?

The detection and identification of expression patterns of novel genes/proteins upgrade our knowledge of their function in stress adaptation and can offer the foundation of efficient approaches in developing stress-tolerant plants. The identification of this protein will open new horizons in developing stress-resilient crop plants.

Why was barley chosen for research? Can the outcome be applied to other crops directly or does it require further research.

Barley is commonly used in bread and other food products, and as a source of malt for alcoholic beverages. As you know, Germany is famous for a variety of breads, therefore, a lot of research is being conducted on this plant.

Further studies are needed to check the presence of this protein in other plants and if the gene responsible for encoding this protein can successfully be transferred to other crop plants.

Can you explain the process?

The protein sample was first separated by gel electrophoresis, then transferred to a nitrocellulose membrane, and finally stained with a primary antibody that specifically binds to this protein. Another fluorescent secondary antibody binds to the primary antibody and provides a means of detection via photography. To further study the function of HvHorcH during salt stress, a transgenic approach in Arabidopsis thaliana was applied. The gene responsible for this protein was transferred in A. thaliana to check its function. These results indicated that the expression of HvHorcH in root tips enhances salt tolerance in the plants.

How did you name the protein?

Since this is newly identified protein shows homology with the previously identified Jacalin-Related Lectin (JRL) horcolin from barley coleoptiles, therefore, we named the gene as HvHorcH.

What is the significance of the discovery for India and how can it be taken forward?

Like in other countries, salt stress is a major threat to the food security in India too. Therefore, scientists are making efforts to identify the novel proteins which are expressed in these stressful conditions in order to create more tolerant and future ready crops.


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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 12:57:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/amu-professor-behind-discovery-of-salt-tolerant-protein-in-barley/article36793174.ece

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