London, February 28 : Finnish and American scientists have identified a gene which is key to the regulation of carbon dioxide uptake for photosynthesis and water evaporation in plants, a discovery that may be useful for growing drought-tolerant crops.
Professor Jaakko Kangasjarvi, who led a group of researchers from the University of Helsinki, says that the research team has identified an anion channel, which is of central importance in the regulation of stomatal activity in plants.
Stomata are tiny pores on the plant leaf surface, through which the leaves absorb carbon dioxide necessary for photosynthesis and release moisture into the air.
The stomatal pores are surrounded by circular guard cells, which contain several types of ion channels that control the opening and closing of such cells when the plant encounters a stressful situation, such as increased ozone in the air or drought.
Professor Kangasjarvi and his colleagues identified the anion channel using a mutation of Arabidopsis thaliana commonly known as thale cress, reports Nature magazine in its online edition.
In a study, they found that the mutant did not react by closing its stomata as a response to high ozone or carbon dioxide concentration in the air like a healthy plant did.
A team of researchers at the University of California in San Diego showed with electrophysiological measurements that the gene identified encodes an anion channel, which is involved in the regulation of stomatal activities.
The magazine reports that the gene identified is of central importance for the mechanisms of stomatal regulation because, unlike the ion channels detected previously, the newly discovered anion channel takes part in the regulation of all the main stomatal activities.
Experts believe that this research may help develop a means to grow such crops as can thrive in dry areas, something which warrants an in-depth knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate stomata.
They also hope that the new findings will provide a new tool for geneticists in the development of drought-resistant plants.