Retrotransposons and siRNA have a role in the evolution of desiccation tolerance leading to resurrection of the plant Craterostigma plantagineum


Author for correspondence:
Antonella Furini
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  • • Craterostigma plantagineum can lose up to 96% of its water content but fully recover within hours after rehydration. The callus tissue of the plant becomes desiccation tolerant upon pre-incubation with abscisic acid (ABA). In callus and vegetative organs, ABA addition and water depletion induce a set of dehydration-responsive genes.
  • • Previously, activation tagging led to the isolation of Craterostigma desiccation tolerant (CDT-1), a dehydration-related ABA-inducible gene which renders callus desiccation tolerant without ABA pre-treatment. This gene belongs to a family of retroelements, members of which are inducible by dehydration.
  • • Craterostigma plantagineum transformation with mutated versions of CDT-1 indicated that protein is not required for the induction of callus desiccation tolerance. Northern analysis and protoplast transfection indicated that CDT-1 directs the synthesis of a double-stranded 21-bp short interfering RNA (siRNA), which opens the metabolic pathway for desiccation tolerance.
  • • Via transposition, these retroelements have progressively increased the capacity of the species to synthesize siRNA and thus recover after dehydration. This may be a case of evolution towards the acquisition of a new trait, stimulated by the environment acting directly on intra-genomic DNA replication.