Transgenic approaches for abiotic stress tolerance in plants: retrospect and prospects

Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur, V Vadez, Kiran K Sharma
Plant Cell Reports 2008, 27 (3): 411-24
Abiotic stresses including drought are serious threats to the sustainability of crop yields accounting for more crop productivity losses than any other factor in rainfed agriculture. Success in breeding for better adapted varieties to abiotic stresses depend upon the concerted efforts by various research domains including plant and cell physiology, molecular biology, genetics, and breeding. Use of modern molecular biology tools for elucidating the control mechanisms of abiotic stress tolerance, and for engineering stress tolerant crops is based on the expression of specific stress-related genes. Hence, genetic engineering for developing stress tolerant plants, based on the introgression of genes that are known to be involved in stress response and putative tolerance, might prove to be a faster track towards improving crop varieties. Far beyond the initial attempts to insert "single-action" genes, engineering of the regulatory machinery involving transcription factors has emerged as a new tool now for controlling the expression of many stress-responsive genes. Nevertheless, the task of generating transgenic cultivars is not only limited to the success in the transformation process, but also proper incorporation of the stress tolerance. Evaluation of the transgenic plants under stress conditions, and understanding the physiological effect of the inserted genes at the whole plant level remain as major challenges to overcome. This review focuses on the recent progress in using transgenic technology for the improvement of abiotic stress tolerance in plants. This includes discussion on the evaluation of abiotic stress response and the protocols for testing the transgenic plants for their tolerance under close-to-field conditions.

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