Australian genetics group open up new avenues to salt-tolerant rice

Improved Salinity Tolerance of Rice Through Cell Type-Specific Expression of [sodium pump] AtHKT1
This work presents an important step in the development of abiotic stress tolerance in crop plants via targeted changes in mineral transport.

Previously, cell type-specific expression of AtHKT1;1, a sodium transporter, improved sodium (Na+) exclusion and salinity tolerance in Arabidopsis.

In the current work, AtHKT1;1, was expressed specifically in the root cortical and epidermal cells of an Arabidopsis GAL4-GFP enhancer trap line. These transgenic plants were found to have significantly improved Na+ exclusion under conditions of salinity stress.

 The feasibility of a similar biotechnological approach in crop plants was explored using a GAL4-GFP enhancer trap rice line to drive expression of AtHKT1;1 specifically in the root cortex. Compared with the background GAL4-GFP line, the rice plants expressing AtHKT1;1 had a higher fresh weight under salinity stress, which was related to a lower concentration of Na+ in the shoots. The root-to-shoot transport of 22Na+ was also decreased and was correlated with an upregulation of OsHKT1;5, the native transporter responsible for Na+ retrieval from the transpiration stream. Interestingly, in the transgenic Arabidopsis plants overexpressing AtHKT1;1 in the cortex and epidermis, the native AtHKT1;1 gene responsible for Na+ retrieval from the transpiration stream, was also upregulated. Extra Na+ retrieved from the xylem was stored in the outer root cells and was correlated with a significant increase in expression of the vacuolar pyrophosphatases (in Arabidopsis and rice) the activity of which would be necessary to move the additional stored Na+ into the vacuoles of these cells.

Citation: Plett D, Safwat G, Gilliham M, Skrumsager Møller I, Roy S, et al. (2010) Improved Salinity Tolerance of Rice Through Cell Type-Specific Expression of AtHKT1;1. PLoS ONE 5(9): e12571. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012571

Written by David Tribe

David Tribe’s research career in academia and industry has covered molecular genetics, biochemistry, microbial evolution and biotechnology. He has over 60 publications and patents. Dr. Tribe's recent activities focus on agricultural policy and food risk management. He teaches graduate programs in food science and risk management as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, University of Melbourne.