Harnessing the Plant Mobileome for Better Crops

Plant scientists have believed until recently that messenger RNA (mRNA) operates almost exclusively as part of an intracellular signaling system within the cell where the mRNA originates. However, new studies of heterografted root and shoot systems—in which the shoots of one species are joined to the root system of another—have found a large amount of RNA moves through a plant and across distant organ systems. The significance of this plant “mobileome” is heavily debated. Do mobile RNAs represent a collection of long-distance signals, or are they merely noise in the vascular system? The answer is of vital importance to grafting, a practice used in many crop plants to boost productivity, confer tolerance to suboptimal environments and diseases, and facilitate efficient harvesting through modified shoot structure.

With this CAREER award, Margaret H. Frank, School of Integrative Plant Science, Plant Biology, is resolving the fundamental question of whether mRNA plays a crucial role in long-distance signaling. By providing insight into the dynamic behavior of long-distance RNA movement, this project is advancing the long-term goal of engineering and deploying artificial mRNAs to confer agriculturally desirable traits such as resistance to disease and drought.

Research conducted on this project will help elucidate the mechanisms that underlie communication between grafted root and shoot systems. Progress in this area has the potential to develop a more precise science for the practice of grafting, enabling scientists and farmers to rapidly adapt crops to combat new diseases, handle environmental fluctuations, and restructure growth habits for improved crop productivity.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$1.3 Million spanning 5 years