PennState University researchers used rice seedlings to show that the stress
of hotter temperatures may trigger a response in a plant's ribonucleic acid
(RNA), which is a part of a cells' genetic messaging system, to manage this
change in its environment.
The researchers studied over 14,000 different RNAs to look for changes in
the RNA. Thus, they searched for changes in RNA's intricately folded
structures that could signal acute heat stress. Since RNA is
single-stranded, unlike the double-stranded DNA, it is able to fold back on
itself and form more complex folds than DNA. They exposed two-week old rice
seedlings to above normal temperatures for just ten minutes and compared
with the control plants.
Results showed that the folds in the RNA of plants suffering from heat
stress were looser than those in the control plants. The unfolding of the
mRNA, a particular type of RNA, which transfers DNA instructions to the
ribosome in a cell during the protein-making process, was also found to be
correlated with a loss in the abundance of mRNA, suggesting that mRNA
unfolding promotes its degradation, a method that cells use to regulate
which genes express and when.
According to one of the researchers, Philip Bevilacqua, the results give
hints on next steps for future research into more heat and drought resistant
"So, if loss of structure results in loss of abundance and if that loss of
abundance is not optimal, then you could imagine that we could change the
sequences of the ends of the RNA, making them more stable, and, therefore,
stabilize the production of those proteins," he said.