Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have fooled soybean plants
into thinking they were under attack by temporarily silencing the expression
of a critical gene. After selectively cross breeding those plants with the
original stock, the progeny "remember" the stress-induced responses and
become more vigorous, resilient, and productive.
This epigenetic reprogramming of soybean plants, the world's most widely
grown legume, was accomplished by changing how existing genes are expressed,
instead of introducing new genes. Researchers found that when they
down-regulate or turn off the expression of the gene MSH1, the plant becomes
"convinced" it is encountering multiple stresses, even though it is growing
under perfect conditions. This amplifies the expression of gene networks to
respond to multiple stimuli.
The soybean lines derived from crossing with the "memory" plants were grown
in large populations in four different field conditions at four widely
separated locations in Nebraska, and they proved to be more vigorous,
higher-yielding, and better adapted to their environment than typical