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New Research Project Could Provide Insights Into How Plants Respond To Climate Change

A research project that’s just received a Marsden Fund Standard Grant will improve our understanding of how land plants adapt to environmental stress and could provide insight into how plants respond to climate change.

The research project will investigate hornwort plants, which are rare for their lack of ability to produce the red flavonoid pigment that is thought to help plants cope with environmental challenges.

“We think hornworts are unique,” says Dr Kevin Davies, from Plant & Food Research. “If they lack flavonoids – the red pigments found in flowers and leaves that plants seem to need to protect themselves against environmental stresses like UV-B radiation, cold, drought, nutrient deprivation and disease – then we want to know how this affects their ability to cope with environmental changes.”

As Principal Investigator, Davies will lead a multidisciplinary team of Principal and Associate Investigators – including chemists, genomic specialists and world-leading plant physiologists – from Plant & Food Research, Monash University (Australia) and the University of Pisa (Italy). Using genetic and genomic studies and samples from Aotearoa-New Zealand, Australia and the USA, the project will advance our understanding of stress-induced red pigmentation in land plants.

“If hornworts aren’t disadvantaged by lacking flavonoids then why are these pigments so prevalent in other plants? Perhaps hornworts have evolved alternative ways to cope with environmental stress that have yet to be described,” says Davies.

The Marsden Fund, managed by the Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the New Zealand government, supports New Zealand’s best investigator-initiated research in the areas of science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities. This project, titled, The Road Less Travelled: How hornworts can help decipher the evolution of a fundamental stress tolerance adaptation of land plants is one of two Plant & Food Research Marsden grants for this round.

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