How Plants Can Beat the Heat: Their Memory Mechanism for Adapting to Heat Stress

"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." But what if you're a plant and that's just not possible? It turns out they have other options. Researchers from Japan have discovered that plants can gain heat tolerance to better adapt to future heat stress, thanks to a particular mechanism for heat stress 'memory'. In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers from Nara Institute of Science and Technology have revealed that a family of proteins that control small heat shock genes enables plants to 'remember' how to deal with heat stress. Climate change, especially global warming, is a growing threat to agriculture worldwide. Because plants can't move to avoid adverse conditions, such as potentially lethal high temperatures, they need to be able to deal with factors such as heat stress effectively to survive. Therefore, improving the heat tolerance of crop plants is an important goal in agriculture. "Heat stress is often repeating and changing," says lead author of the study Nobutoshi Yamaguchi. "Once plants have undergone mild heat stress, they become tolerant and can adapt to further heat stress. This is referred to as heat stress 'memory' and has been reported to be correlated to epigenetic modifications." Epigenetic modifications are inheritable changes in the way genes are expressed, and do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequences. "We wanted to discover how plants retain a memory of environmental changes," explains Toshiro Ito, s

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2 thoughts on “How Plants Can Beat the Heat: Their Memory Mechanism for Adapting to Heat Stress

  1. Thanks, Kathy for sharing how this works, at the molecular level. Could stress-induced epigenetics also lower my winter feed costs? And increase herd longevity?

    You’ve posted several times over the years, ongoing work of Andy Roberts, USDA-ARS. On the surprising benefits of winter-restricted feed while developing heifers. This ‘stress’ appears to result in generations of more efficient feeding cattle. With potential to move the whole herd to that goal. Helping to reduce winter feed costs. With statistically same breeding rates and higher rates of longevity, if I’m reading the research correctly. Though thinner heifers need to be gaining weight to breed well and keep calves.
    (and the paper you link there)

    Apparently there are epigenetic changes occurring in the mother, the fetus she’s carrying during feed reduction, and her developing fetal eggs. Three generations in one animal, each being shaped to thrive more on forages. Strains my brain to grasp that…

    So epigenetics can help me reduce winter feed costs? And build a herd that thrives on more pasture, less inputs? That’s practical, whether we’ve yet to work out the details!

    1. I love to see you making these connections! And yes, you’re right. This seems to be what the research and studies of epigenetics are telling us. In fact, I’ve read studies with similar results in humans. Mothers who went through the Dutch Famine of WWII had children who were prone to obesity. ( And children of adults who lived through the famine in China in the mid-20th century were more prone to hyperglycemia. ( It’s all very interesting! 🙂

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