Improving freezing tolerance in temperate cereal crops: what can we learn from Brachypodium model species
The effects of low and freezing temperatures on plants have long been the subject of intense research, as they limit crop productivity worldwide. To date, many studies have described cold-acclimation in cereal crops, the process by which an exposure to low, non-freezing temperatures induces freezing tolerance. The accumulated data demonstrate that cold acclimation requires the expression of different but overlapping suites of genes (multigenic traits). In addition, the regulation of low temperature responses in plants has been shown to involve dynamic epigenetic changes at specific loci. My research aims at understanding the chromatin mechanisms that control agronomically important traits such as freezing tolerance in cereals. To study chromatin dynamics we are using monocot Brachypodium species as genetic model systems. These plants are close relatives of wheat and barley and are appealing for molecular studies due primarily to their small genomes and the relative ease in which they can be transformed. The latter is crucial to our work in the lab as transgenic plants allow us to isolate and analyze the function of specialized chromatin modifying genes involved behind this targeted response. In this talk I will discuss these mechanisms and highlight some projects currently underway in my lab at McGill that we hope will ultimately lead to strategies for the improvement of important cereal crops.