Alice Cheung and Hen-Ming Wu, from UMass Amherst’s biochemistry and molecular biology department, are working with colleagues around the world, including former postdoc Qiaohong Duan (now a professor at Shandong Agricultural University), to expand the limits of plant breeding to augment desirable traits in crops.

Their latest research, published in Nature, describes how four intra- and interspecies reproductive compatibility systems are executed by two distinct receptors, FERONIA and S-locus receptor kinase. The study explores how the two receptors respond to signals from compatible or incompatible pollen to either permit or block their entry to the female organ to deliver sperm and produce seeds. Their findings show that this system can be manipulated, overcoming the species barrier and allowing for interspecific hybridization in crops.

Their study focuses on plants in the Brassicaceae family, which includes the model plant Arabidopsis and vegetable crops such as cabbage, broccoli and rape. Their findings open the door to generating further diversity and augmenting desirable traits in these crop plants.

“[This] may be explained to a child who does not like broccoli that one day broccoli could be changed to a taste that they like, so they can enjoy the vegetable with all its nutritional benefits but don’t have to hold their nose,” says Cheung. “This research could also be applied to introduce resistance traits for various stresses, such as diseases, heat, drought and other environmental conditions adverse to plant growth and reproduction, thus contributing to food security.”

Read on.