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Korean scientists discover stress-resistant plant genes

Korean scientists have found the genes that enable plants to grow in harsh environments in a discovery that could help to produce plants resistant to natural disasters.

Knowing the genes that help plants grow even when affected by saline, cold or arid habitats could offer a way to tackle global food shortages, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said Sunday.

An international research team led by South Korean scientist Yun Dae-jin confirmed that genes in a kind of plant named Thellungiella parvula of halophyte that can grow in areas affected by salinity, extreme cold and dryness and that the genes were duplicated in order to help the plant to adapt to an extreme environment, the ministry said.

Among the 603 genes analyzed, most are confirmed to play an important role for the plant to overcome environmental stress and adapt to a new environment.

The ministry added that the research reveals a possible solution to global food shortages by producing strong plants that are resistant to harsh environments.

“We expect that by utilizing the genetic information of halophyte, it will be possible to produce plants that can adapt to extreme environment or climate change,” said Yun, a professor in the biochemistry department of Gyeongsang National University.

There are two kinds of plant species, one called halophyte which can survive in harsh natural conditions such as in extreme cold, desserts, salt water, and the other majority plant species called glycophyte that are damaged easily by the extreme conditions. Online encyclopedia shows that only 2 percent of all plant species are halophytes and most of grain crops and vegetables are glycophyte.

Two other international scholars, Hans Bohnert of Illinois State University and Ray Bressan of Purdue University, participated in the research.

The findings will be published in the science journal Nature Genetics next month, government officials said.

By Lee Woo-young  (