Exploring Sweet Potato Genes for Stress Resistance

Greg Howard
17th March, 2024

Exploring Sweet Potato Genes for Stress Resistance

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Researchers identified 300 stress-response genes in sweetpotatoes, enhancing our understanding of crop resilience
  • These genes were activated by cold, drought, heat, and salt, suggesting they're crucial for survival
  • Modified sweetpotatoes with an overexpressed gene showed improved cold tolerance, hinting at future crop improvements
In the world of agriculture, one of the key challenges is ensuring that staple crops can withstand the various stresses they encounter. Sweetpotato, a vital source of nutrition for millions, is no exception. Researchers at Jiangsu Normal University have taken a significant step towards understanding how sweetpotatoes manage to survive and even thrive despite adverse environmental conditions[1]. This new study delves into the genetic tools sweetpotatoes use to cope with stress — specifically, a group of genes known as RNA helicases. RNA helicases are like tiny molecular machines within cells that help to unravel and manipulate RNA, a molecule closely related to DNA that serves as a messenger and plays a critical role in creating proteins and regulating gene activity. These helicases are particularly important when a plant faces 'abiotic' stresses — non-living factors such as extreme temperatures or salinity that can adversely affect growth and yield. The study from Jiangsu Normal University identified a whopping 300 RNA helicase genes in sweetpotato, grouping them into three families: IbDEAD, IbDEAH, and IbDExDH. These genes are not just numerous; they are also diverse, each potentially playing a unique role in the plant's stress response. This diversity is a result of a long evolutionary process, as evidenced by the study's examination of the sweetpotato RNA helicase genes' relationships to similar genes in other species. One of the most interesting findings of this research is how these genes react to different types of stress. The scientists used RNA-Seq analysis and a technique called qRT-PCR to confirm that eight specific RNA helicase genes in sweetpotato respond significantly to cold, drought, heat, and salt stress across multiple tissues in ten different varieties. This suggests that these genes are key players in the plant's survival strategy. The study goes further by creating transgenic sweetpotato lines — plants that have been genetically modified to overexpress one of these helicase genes, IbDExDH96. This experiment was aimed at understanding the role of this particular gene in response to cold stress. The results were promising, indicating that manipulating RNA helicase genes could potentially lead to the development of sweetpotato varieties with enhanced resilience to environmental challenges. What's more, the researchers discovered that the promoters of these RNA helicase genes — the DNA sequences that control when and where a gene is turned on — are packed with elements that respond to temperature, hormones, and light. This finding underscores the complexity of the stress response in sweetpotatoes and points to a sophisticated network of genetic switches that can be toggled in response to changing environmental conditions. This study builds upon previous work that has highlighted the importance of RNA helicases in plant stress responses. For instance, research on alphaviruses revealed that a human RNA helicase, DDX39A, can inhibit virus replication by binding to a conserved element in the viral RNA[2]. Similarly, in the realm of plant immunity, it was shown that certain RNA structures can control the translation of proteins by affecting the selection of the start codon, a process that can be dynamically regulated by RNA helicases[3]. Moreover, the study on rapeseed demonstrated how overexpressing a DEAD-box RNA helicase could confer drought tolerance, mediated by the plant hormone ABA[4]. The current research on sweetpotato RNA helicases echoes these themes, suggesting that RNA helicases are a universal tool for managing stress across different organisms. By understanding how these helicases function in sweetpotato, scientists can potentially harness them to improve crop resilience not just in this plant but in agriculture more broadly. In summary, the Jiangsu Normal University study provides a comprehensive look at the RNA helicase gene family in sweetpotatoes and their involvement in abiotic stress responses. By exploring the genetic basis of stress tolerance in this staple crop, the research opens the door to developing new varieties that can better withstand the challenges posed by a changing environment, ultimately securing food sources for future generations.

BiotechGeneticsPlant Science


Main Study

1) Genome-wide systematic survey and analysis of the RNA helicase gene family and their response to abiotic stress in sweetpotato.

Published 16th March, 2024


Related Studies

2) The RNA helicase DDX39A binds a conserved structure in chikungunya virus RNA to control infection.


3) Pervasive downstream RNA hairpins dynamically dictate start-codon selection.


4) DEAD-box RNA helicase 6 regulates drought and abscisic acid stress responses in rapeseed (Brassica napus).


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