Role of the Selaginella lepidophylla bHLH Transcription Factor in Drought Stress Response of Arabidopsis thaliana

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Plant growth and productivity are severely affected by increasing intensities and frequencies of drought arising from the global climate crisis. Thus, novel strategies that diminish the negative impacts of drought stress on crop yield are needed. Selaginella lepidophylla is a desiccation- tolerant spike moss that has specialized adaptations to tolerate water loss down to 4% relative water content. Recent studies have provided some mechanistic understanding behind the desiccation tolerance response. However, the underlying regulatory basis of the resurrection trait is mostly unknown. Selaginella lepidophylla has 1079 transcription factors (TFs), and among these, 30 candidates were identified as putative regulators of the desiccation tolerance response. The basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor family is known for its involvement in the regulation of plant responses to various abiotic stresses. Therefore, one member of the bHLH transcription factor that was highly expressed at 4% relative water content in S. lepidophylla (SlbHLH) was selected for functional analysis in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana under abiotic stress conditions. Interestingly, preliminary results showed that SlbHLH overexpression not only enhanced water-deficit stress tolerance but also salt stress tolerance as measured by increased vegetative biomass in Arabidopsis T2 seedlings compared to wild type control plants. These preliminary results suggest that SlbHLH might mediate both drought and salt stress response adaptation pathways without negatively affecting growth in A. thaliana.

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Bernie Wone

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