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Breakthrough in planting crops in salty soil

CHINESE and American scientists have developed a gene which can help plants grow in saline and alkaline soil.

"The research finding may help reduce the pressure on China's precious agricultural land caused by the huge population in the country," said Xia Tao, a major researcher at East China Normal University.

The research was published by the Journal of Biological Chemistry, a United States journal founded in 1905.

Researchers from ECNU and University of California applied a DNA shuffling method to improve salt tolerance in plants and help them grow on sterile land.

Normal plants die on saline and alkaline land, due to the high density of salt and alkali in their cells.

Plants absorb moisture and nutrients from soil through their roots.

Scientists thought about isolating the harmful saline and alkaline substances in vacuoles, enclosed compartments which are filled with water and present in all plants. One of their functions is to contain waste products.

The sodium-hydrogen antiporter, a protein on the membrane or skin of the vacuoles, plays a very important role in the transport of the waste.

Xia Tao, a professor at ECNU's School of Life Science and his colleagues, created a new kind of sodium-hydrogen antiporter by DNA shuffling to improve its transportation abilities.

The waste transportation abilities of the new antiporter were doubled compared with the original one.

Scientists transplanted the gene into plants and found their abilities to live in saline and alkaline soil greatly improved.

"The research will help breed new types of plants which are tolerant to salt and able to grow on saline and alkaline land," Xia said.

The group of researchers is now studying how to upgrade the gene to further improve its transport abilities.


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