From Arabidopsis to Crops: a Molecular Tool to Increase Protein Content and Disease Resistance

Deficiency in dietary protein is globally one of the most severe health problems; the ability to optimize protein productivity of plant-based foods has far-ranging impact on world health and sustainability. Crop plants must integrate signals from the environment and prioritize responses to stresses that may occur individually/simultaneously throughout the growing season. Stress responses can adversely affect plant growth and quality traits such as protein and starch.

Plant diseases each year cause major losses to crop production. The Arabidopsis thaliana QQS (Qua Quine Starch) orphan gene modulates carbon allocation to protein and starch1. Ectopic QQS expression increases protein content2 in leaf and seed in soybean, in corn and rice3,4. QQS may integrate primary metabolism with environmental perturbations, adjusting the plant’s adaption to abiotic and biotic stresses5. The QQS protein binds to a transcriptional regulator in Arabidopsis and its homologs in crops: Nuclear Factor Y subunit C4 (NF-YC4). NF-YC4 overexpression mimics QQS-overexpression phenotype4,6-10. Mutants overexpressing QQS or NF-YC4 have significantly increased resistance to plant pathogens and pests6,8,9. We have developed a non-transgenic approach to create high-protein crops with broad-spectrum disease resistance11.

Also, we developed single-cell genetic models, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Saccharomyces cerevisiae12, to refactor the functional interactions between QQS and NF-Y subunits to affect modulations in C and N allocation. Transcriptomics analyses enables new discovery to advance basic research and application in crops.

Fill out the form below the access the webinar.