Research Cores and Center

Research Core for Plant Stress Science

Plant stresses can be classified according to three major factors as described below. Research units corresponding to respective stress factors carry out collaborative studies. In each unit, plant stress responses and plant interactions with other organisms are studied using various approaches of physiology, biochemistry, stress tolerance mechanisms, and genetics. Barley and wild plant germplasms collected in the institute are effectively used to develop stress tolerant crop plants.

Under atmospheric environments, fluctuations of light intensity, temperature, or humidity can significantly reduce plant growth and ultimately affect the crop yield. To acclimate to such atmospheric stresses, plants have evolved various ways by which growth defects can be minimized. The Atmospheric Stress Research Unit specifically examines light stress on photosynthetic apparatus in chloroplasts, roles of a phytohormone––abscisic acid–– during drought, and aim at understanding the mechanism(s) that enable plants to tolerate atmospheric stresses at the molecular level. Combined with the use of available genetic resources, our research will facilitate engineering of crops that are acclimated to the atmospheric stresses.

Problem soils including acid, alkaline, salt and heavy-metal contaminated soils comprise approximately 70% of world’s arable soils. Because of deficiency and/or excess of minerals, the productivity and quality of crops on these soils are low. Drought (shortage of soil water) is another major limiting factor for crop production. It is a key to enhancing crop productivity and to improving crop product safety on problem soils to solve future shortage problems related to food production and fuels. In this unit, we specifically examine the response and tolerance mechanisms of plants to problem soil stresses such as drought, salt, aluminum toxicity, iron deficiency, heavy metals, etc. Our goal is to breed crops with increased productivity and safety on problem soils.

Plants are exposed to various biotic stresses in the environment. They are exemplified by infectious pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi, and destructive insects. By contrast, numerous microorganisms support the healthy growth of plants, e.g., those infecting plant pathogens to attenuate their virulence, soil-borne organisms that are mutualistic to plants, and beneficial microorganisms residing on the aerial parts of plants. The ultimate goal of this unit is to achieve “Healthy Plant Growth.” To attain this goal, we study plant responses to organisms that are influential to plant growth; we also study the molecular mechanisms of their effects, which enhances understanding of the dynamic interactions that occur among organisms affecting plants and those that occur between plants and organisms.

Barley and Wild Plant Resource Center

The Barley and Wild Plant Resource Center was established in 1997. Currently, the center consists of two research units, each of which is comprised of several research groups. The Genetic resources unit collects and preserves barley and wild plant species, providing users access to important resources to support future research and breeding activities. The Applied genomics unit develops new resources and techniques supporting the use of plant genetic resources in plant breeding. The center promotes collaborative research using the above-described internationally significant resources and techniques in plant science.

The unit preserves massive collection and detailed genomic information in barley. Using these tools, we analyze the barley gene functions, such as high environmental adaptability and traits of agricultural importance. The unit maintains resources and information related to seed samples and genome analysis in barley and wild plants to support comparative studies with other plant species, especially cereal crops. In wild plant collection, evaluation of stress tolerance and agriculturally important traits are to be conducted as future research efforts.

This unit is intended to report analysis and identification of useful genes conferring resistance to environmental stresses in transposon-tagged and other mutants and also in wild plant species. Additionally, we develop advanced transformation and order-made gene-modification techniques for generating plants that are tolerant to various environmental stresses.

Research Core for Future Crops

The objectives of this core are to exploit new research topics that are expected to be important in the near future and to advance future-oriented studies in plant stress science. Collaboration with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Kenya, Eastern Africa) will be promoted towards an ultimate goal to enable crop production under stressful conditions.

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