Abiotic stresses such as drought, salinity and mineral toxicity negatively impact growth, development, yield and seed quality of plants. Similarly, large losses of grain yields in plants occur as a result of pathogen attack, in particular during vulnerable stages of grain development and germination. Stress perception and plant response occurs via signal transduction pathways that regulate expression of several classes of stress responsive genes. Products of these genes include those that are directly involved in plant protection and those that fulfil regulatory functions. The first group of the gene products include chaperones, osmotins, anti-freeze proteins, mRNA binding proteins, enzymes involved in osmolyte biosynthesis, water channel proteins, sugar and proline transport proteins, detoxification enzymes and a variety of proteases, as well as a range of antimicrobial, insecticidal and other proteins and peptides. The proteins with regulatory function involve transcription factors and those that are engaged in signal transduction pathways, such as protein kinases and hormone biosynthetic enzymes. Both classes of genes encoding these proteins are being investigated using the tools of forward and reverse genetics. Once the stress response pathways are defined and the key players during the plant response to stress are demarcated by forward genetics approaches. Gene function can be enhanced through reverse genetics approaches such as genetic engineering or novel alleles can be sought through germplasm screening or mutagenesis. The latter avenues offer alternatives to traditional breeding. The new knowledge acquired through research of abiotic and biotic stress tolerance mechanisms in plants will help in the application of stress responsive determinants and in engineering plants with enhanced tolerance to stress.
Dr. Maria Hrmova Guest Editor
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