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New lease of life for wilting beauties

Identification and duplication of a gene will make it possible to create drought-resistant plants and help them survive in arid conditions, say scientists.

health and fitness Updated: May 24, 2003 19:03 IST

Purdue University researchers have claimed that the identification and duplication of a gene will make it possible to create drought-resistant plants and help plants survive in arid conditions, according to a study published in The Plant Cell.

As a part of the study, the scientists cloned the gene WAX2 after they discovered a fast-wilting mutant of Arabidopsis, a commonly used experimental plant. The gene is directly associated with the synthesis of the protective layer of plants, called the cuticle, and its contained waxes.

The difference in the mutant Arabidopsis when compared to a wild-type, or normal, plant is the plants' ability to retain water.

This is apparently because the mutation, called WAX2, has a different cuticle structure than found in a plant that has the normal gene, WAX2.

"If we can alter the expression of the WAX2 gene, we might be able to produce a cuticle that is thicker or more rigid so that it's less permeable to water loss," said Matt Jenks, associate professor of horticulture and landscape architecture.

Jenks and his research team isolated more than 20 mutant Arabidopsis plants that showed alterations in the amount of wax they produced. Of these, only a few lost water more quickly than the wild type.

The study using the mutant WAX2 also revealed unique interactions between the cuticle and other aspects of plant development.

First Published: May 24, 2003 00:00 IST