Professor Farrant's research involves investigation of the mechanisms of desiccation tolerance (DT) in the vegetative tissues and seeds of highly unusual plants (termed resurrection plants) that tolerate extreme water loss and yet regain full metabolism in existing tissues on rewatering. Of the 300 angiosperm species world wide that exhibit vegetative desiccation tolerance, 90% occur only in southern Africa and her research group are consequently able to study a number of tissue types (roots, stems, leaves and seeds) in a variety of resurrection plants (nine angiosperm and two ferns species).
In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the protection mechanisms enabling DT in resurrection plants (with the ultimate applied aim of introducing key components into crop plants for improved drought tolerance) it is important to study the plant responses from the molecular to the whole plant/ecophysiological levels. Work is conducted 1) on several different angiosperm species each serving as a model for a crop type that will be bioengineered for drought tolerance; 2) on multiple tissue types (leaves, roots and seeds); 3) using a systems biology approach in which the disciplines of molecular biology (for the characterisation of genes, proteins, metabolites and lipids associated with water loss, and the nature of their subcellular regulation), biochemistry, physiology and cell biology (for functional analysis of how protection is afforded and where it is located) are utilized.
Figure 1A. Overview of approaches used in Prof. Farrant's research; B. Timeline of research from the initiation of desiccation tolerance research, inlcuding current and ongoing research. Ca: Castanospermum; DT: desiccation tolerance; HChl: homoiochlorophyllous; Mc; Mohria caffrorum; PChl: poikilochlorophyllous; RFOs: raffinose family oligosaccharides; ROS: reactive oxygen species; Xv: Xerophyta vicosa.