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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Dec 4;104(49):19631-6. Epub 2007 Nov 28.

Delayed leaf senescence induces extreme drought tolerance in a flowering plant.

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Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Drought, the most prominent threat to agricultural production worldwide, accelerates leaf senescence, leading to a decrease in canopy size, loss in photosynthesis and reduced yields. On the basis of the assumption that senescence is a type of cell death program that could be inappropriately activated during drought, we hypothesized that it may be possible to enhance drought tolerance by delaying drought-induced leaf senescence. We generated transgenic plants expressing an isopentenyltransferase gene driven by a stress- and maturation-induced promoter. Remarkably, the suppression of drought-induced leaf senescence resulted in outstanding drought tolerance as shown by, among other responses, vigorous growth after a long drought period that killed the control plants. The transgenic plants maintained high water contents and retained photosynthetic activity (albeit at a reduced level) during the drought. Moreover, the transgenic plants displayed minimal yield loss when watered with only 30% of the amount of water used under control conditions. The production of drought-tolerant crops able to grow under restricted water regimes without diminution of yield would minimize drought-related losses and ensure food production in water-limited lands.

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