Salt cress (Thellungiella halophila) is a small winter annual crucifer with a short life cycle. It has a small genome (about 2 x Arabidopsis) with high sequence identity (average 92%) with Arabidopsis, and can be genetically transformed by the simple floral dip procedure. It is capable of copious seed production. Salt cress is an extremophile native to harsh environments and can reproduce after exposure to extreme salinity (500 mM NaCl) or cold to -15°C. It is a typical halophyte that accumulates NaCl at controlled rates and also dramatic levels of Pro (>150 mM) during exposure to high salinity. Stomata of salt cress are distributed on the leaf surface at higher density, but are less open than the stomata of Arabidopsis and respond to salt stress by closing more tightly. Leaves of salt cress are more succulent-like, have a second layer of palisade mesophyll cells, and are frequently shed during extreme salt stress. Roots of salt cress develop both an extra endodermis and cortex cell layer compared to Arabidopsis. Salt cress, although salt and cold tolerant, is not exceptionally tolerant of soil desiccation. We have isolated several ethyl methanesulfonate mutants of salt cress that have reduced salinity tolerance, which provide evidence that salt tolerance in this halophyte can be significantly affected by individual genetic loci. Analysis of salt cress expressed sequence tags provides evidence for the presence of paralogs, missing in the Arabidopsis genome, and for genes with abiotic stress-relevant functions. Hybridizations of salt cress RNA targets to an Arabidopsis whole-genome oligonucleotide array indicate that commonly stress-associated transcripts are expressed at a noticeably higher level in unstressed salt cress plants and are induced rapidly under stress. Efficient transformation of salt cress allows for simple gene exchange between Arabidopsis and salt cress. In addition, the generation of T-DNA-tagged mutant collections of salt cress, already in progress, will open the door to a new era of forward and reverse genetic studies of extremophile plant biology.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Plant Science