‘Sugar secret to dehydration survival, water stress protection’

Kolkata: Scientists in India and Germany have unlocked the secret to enduring dehydration: a sugar called trehalose. They say the discovery could help survival of plants in drought-affected areas and could be applied to the field of cryogenic preservation as well.

Scientists from the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem), India, and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), Germany, identified the key metabolic pathway that helps organisms to synthesise trehalose that helps them survive dehydration.

The work, conducted on worms and yeast and published in the journal ‘eLife’, identifies the popular text-book pathway called the ‘Glyoxylate Shunt’, as the primary route for directing resources into the production of trehalose.

“An important outcome of this research lies in stimulating future studies on the role of the pathway in drought resistance in plants. Alternatively, this work could also be useful in the field of cryogenic preservation,” said Sunil Laxman, one of the authors of the paper, affiliated to Bengaluru’s inStem.

The ‘Glyoxylate Shunt’, known to function in bacteria, fungi, round worms and plants, is now recognised now as a powerful pathway that can rewire and divert resources towards making protective molecules like trehalose.

Apart from its importance in helping cells survive dehydration, trehalose has also been found to be beneficial in protecting cells during freezing and thawing.

“Freezing exerts similar stresses on cell membranes as dehydration does. Since trehalose also protects against cell injuries caused by freezing and thawing, our research can have very practical applications in biotechnology, especially in studying cryogenic survival,” Laxman added.

The work is a collaborative initiative between Laxman’s group at inStem and Teymuras V. Kurzchalia’s team at MPI-CBG in Dresden.