Droughts cause severe losses in many agronomy sectors in Canada and abroad every year. Therefore, to feed a growing population facing global climate change, crop lines with improved drought tolerance are urgently needed. Much research has gone into breeding plant lines with improved stress resilience, but with limited effects on overall performance so far. In this project, we are investigating the effect of special wax compounds that, due to their outstanding structures, are helping seal the surfaces of species/organs adapted to extreme climates. Our experiments build on recent progress in the Jetter lab, where we have developed all the necessary tools to investigate the chemical composition, physical structure, and biological function of complex wax mixtures lining the leaves of diverse species.
In particular, we have identified many wax compounds (ketones) with kinks in their long carbon chains that disturb the molecular packing of the wax mixture. We are now studying the formation of these ketones, their effects on the physical structure of the wax mixtures, and their impact on crop drought tolerance. To this end, the native waxes of wheat and other species containing wax ketones are analyzed, and the enzymes responsible for their formation are identified and characterized.