Scientist, Michael Holdsworth, explaining how this break-though could move this technology forward.

Scientists working on engineering flood tolerant crops.

Scientists working on engineering flood tolerant crops.

Topic background

Across the globe there has been fiscal and social demand for flood-tolerant crops. This issue was finally taken up in the late 1980's but until recently, there had been no landmark occasions. 10 Starting in 2009, flood-tolerant rice was engineered and helped solve a huge hunger crisis in some countries. 3Then on October 23, 2011 there was a huge breakthrough in the field. The mechanism that causes a plant to be flood-tolerant was identified. This later helped scientists develop a flood-tolerant wheat strain earlier this year! 4The mechanism works like this:

Flood-tolerant plants have a protein that is unstable when oxygen levels are normal. When a flood occurs, and oxygen levels are lowered this protein becomes stable. And, believe it or not this protein's new stability changes almost everything about the plant. It begins to transcribe its genes, slows it's metabolism so it requires less oxygen, and controls/regulate key proteins called "Transcription Factors" that turn genes on and off. When water levels then go back down these protein's become unstable again, creating a feedback, or "switch" if you will.13

Genomic Details:

One of the researchers at UC Riverside, Julia Bailey-Serres, head of the Botany and Plant Sciences Department said, "When a plant cell is starved for oxygen, it cannot efficiently generate adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the high-energy molecule plants use for energy storage, because the plant cannot generate enough energy to sustain normal growth, it tries a different approach: it taps into its energy reserves, resulting in more sugars breaking down, as opposed to when oxygen is available, in order to produce ATP. These subtle changes in metabolism are characteristic of low oxygen stress in plant and animal cells. It's similar to the production of lactic acid in our bodies when we exercise. We produce lactic acid as a by-product because we are not producing energy aerobically." This means that when flooding occurs the proteins in the plants become stable and therefore act differently. This means they transcribe differently, turn different genes on and off, and most importantly slow down the plants metabolism so it uses the minimal oxygen slower. All of this contributes to the plants survival.15

As you look through this website you will discover more and more about flood-tolerant crops and how the technology has developed over the years. :)


Agriculture: The growth of plants/animals to benefit other life forms.

Water-logged/Water-Logging: When soil is saturated by ground water, leaving no oxygen.

GMO: A genetically modified organism. An organism that's material that has been changed using a specific type of genetic engineering techniques.

Sub1 Gene: "The mechanism controls key regulatory proteins called transcription factors that can turn other genes on and off, it is the unusual structure of these proteins that destines them for destruction under normal oxygen levels, but when oxygen levels decline, they become stable. Their stability results in changes in gene expression and metabolism that enhance survival in the low oxygen conditions brought on by flooding. When the plants return to normal oxygen levels, the proteins are again degraded, providing a feedback control mechanism." says Michael Holdsworth, a professor of crop science at the University of Nottingham who helped lead the research project with Bailey-Serres.

Chinese Spring Wheat: A certain type of wheat, commonly used in Scientific research.

Wheat Lines: Rows of growing wheat plant, mainly used for a bigger sample size.

Sample Size: When a large group is used to test a hypothesis to ensure that the results were not a haphazard result of coincidence.

 This diagram shows the difference between flooded and non-flooded plants. On the left side, the well-drained plant has plenty of oxygen to use to stay alive, while on the right side, the plant is flooded, and all the black space takes away the oxygen's room.


On the top left, are crops being tested for the flood-tolerant gene in a lab before being tested in the field. On the top right are some crops in a flooded field also being tested for the flood-tolerant genes.  

On the far left, are more crops being tested for the flood-tolerant gene. On the far right, UC Riverside student Seung Cho Lee (left) and Julia Bailey-Serres are seen in the lab with Arabidopsis plants. (Used by most plant Scientists as a model plant) 


(A type of rice that is "tougher" and more flood resistant)


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