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Giving Plants a Break

plant leaf with insects

Giving Plants a Break

How to aid a plant's ability to grow quickly and its ability to fight off pests.

Multitasking is no easy task. Try taking a Zoom call while also writing a pressing email and telling your dog to stop barking. It is not only humans who have trouble multitasking, however. Plants also struggle to do two things at once. Namely, a plant cannot grow quickly if it is also defending itself against insects and pathogens— there is a trade-off.

In 2017, Dr. Gregg Howe, University Distinguished Professor and MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and his team were honored at the Innovation Celebration for discovering a way to “upset the paradigm” of having to choose between a plant’s ability to grow quickly and its ability to fight off pests by creating a plant no longer bound by this energy tradeoff. Howe’s “relief-of-repression” alters a defense hormone repressor and “knocks down” a light receptor of an Arabidopsis plant. This allows a plant to both grow quickly while simultaneously defending itself against insects and pathogens.

The work is important. If Howe can translate his approach to crops, the production could increase by drastic amounts—which is important for an industry that some estimates say needs to increase production by 70% to 100% over the next 30 years. 

Author: Liam Boylan-Pett

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MSU Innovation Center: Giving Plants a Break

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