Stressed Plants Can Pass on “Memories” to Create Hardier Offspring

Penn State researcher Sally Mackenzie didn't really set out to scare soybeans. But that's what she did when she silenced the plants' MSH1 gene. Though the plants were growing in perfect conditions, they suddenly sensed they were encountering a wide range of stresses all at once - drought, extreme cold and heat, high light levels and more. Plants reacted by  amplifying gene responses to deal with the stresses. Then, when Mackenzie crossbred those plants with the original stock, the progeny "remembered" the stress of the parent plants and grew up more vigorous, resilient and productive. The discovery has important implications for breeding plants prepared for climate extremes. A Decade in the Making It took Mackenzie discovered the MSH1 gene about a decade ago. It's something that all plants have, but at the time, she didn't realize it's importance. "Recently, by serendipity, we discovered that after we replace the MSH1 gene, the plant has a 'memory' of that stress — and by memory I mean its growth features are very different from the plant we started with," she said. "And it will remember

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One thought on “Stressed Plants Can Pass on “Memories” to Create Hardier Offspring

  1. Re: ” One way or another, we have to find ways to produce food in those recalcitrant, difficult environments.” Epigenetics may be “one way” but I can think of others. Answers don’t have to be found in a lab but, to give two examples, 1) they may be found by learning from traditional farmers and 2) by putting efforts into education.

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