Capturing drought-avoidance genotypes using peroxisome proliferation readout

Drought significantly affects agriculture in the US and has resulted in $4 billion in losses in just 2014 alone. Optimization of water management together with improved agricultural practices caused significant yield increases without additional water input. The next significant improvement in water use efficiency is predicted to be in breeding plant varieties with better performance under limited water availability. In this project we will develop a simple, high-throughput technology for phenotyping drought avoidance in wheat. Avoidance mechanisms are based on the plant’s ability to reach moisture at deep soil layers and offers many benefits in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) where dryland farming practices are commonplace. However, root phenotyping with large populations is an expensive and time-consuming process. We have already shown that drought tolerance correlates with low peroxisome content in leaves. We want to investigate suitability of peroxisome proliferation as a marker for deeper rooting and overall root architecture. The expected outcome of this project is development of additional markers for drought tolerance, which will ultimately lead to selection of superior varieties in breeding programs in the PNW.

Grant Information

  • Project ID: 169
  • Project Status: Complete


  • Principal Investigator(s): Smertenko, A.
  • Investigator(s): Sanguinet, K.
  • Grant Amount: $26,150



Results of the proposal were presented at 2018 ASPB Annual Meeting and XXVI Plant and Animal Genome conference (2018), Two papers were published

  1. Fahy, D., Sanad, M.N., Duscha, K., Lyons, M., Liu, F., Bozhkov, P., Kunz, H.H., Hu, J., Neuhaus, H.E., Steel, P.G., et al. (2017). Impact of salt stress, cell death, and autophagy on peroxisomes: quantitative and morphological analyses using small fluorescent probe N-BODIPY. Sci Rep 7, 39069.
  2. Smertenko, A. (2017). Can Peroxisomes Inform Cellular Response to Drought? Trends Plant Sci. 22, 1005-1007.

Two manuscripts have been submitted:

  1. Sanad, M.N.M.E., Smertenko A., K.A. Garland-Campbell (2018) Differential dynamic changes of reduced trait model for analyzing the plastic response to drought phases: a case study in spring wheat. Submitted.
  2. Hinojosa L., Sanad M., Jarvis D., Steel P., Murphy K. and A. Smertenko (2018) Impact of heat and drought stress on peroxisome proliferation in quinoa. Submitted.

Additional Funds Leveraged

I submitted a proposal to NSF Plant Genome Research Program entitled “Genetic Architecture of Peroxisome Proliferation in Response to Drought Stress in Wheat” on the 30th of March 2016. The co-PIs on the proposal were Karen Sanguinet, Zhiwu Zhang, Mike Pumphrey, Arron Carter. Unfortunately the proposal was declined. The results of BioAg funded research will be used to address the reviewers’ criticism and re-submit the proposal in 2020.


  • Short-Term: In the course of this proposal we developed a novel technique for growing and phenotyping wheat roots in 55-gallon bins. Measurements of the soil volumetric moisture content demonstrated that under drought conditions the soil moisture was depleted faster at the 400 mm depth and slower at the 800 mm depth. In this way, our set up resembles the field situation whereby moisture can be accessed at a deeper soil levels. We found that under drought conditions, root system size correlated negatively with peroxisome abundance at the later wheat development stages (after Zadoks stage 49). This means that: (i) plants with smaller root system exhibited higher peroxisome abundance and plants with bigger root system exhibited lower peroxisome abundance and (ii) peroxisomes can inform on the size of root system under drought. We also found that yield correlated negatively with the root system size. In terms of wheat breeding practice it means that longer and more branched root system does not guarantee higher yield under drought. One possible explanation is that smaller root system could be more efficient in extracting the soil moisture.
  • Intermediate-Term: Techniques developed for phenotyping root architecture in the course of this proposal will be exploited in other projects where root phenotyping in small containers is not appropriate. Information about correlation between peroxisome abundance and root architecture will be exploited for capturing plants with specific morphology of root system in the breeding populations. We next plan to apply peroxisome abundance measurements for the analysis of varieties in the field conditions and for the breeding populations.
  • Long-Term: Breeding wheat with specific root architecture traits will improve profitability of dryland farming.