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Agrochemical control of plant water use using engineered abscisic acid receptors

Nature volume 520, pages 545548 (23 April 2015) | Download Citation



Rising temperatures and lessening fresh water supplies are threatening agricultural productivity and have motivated efforts to improve plant water use and drought tolerance. During water deficit, plants produce elevated levels of abscisic acid (ABA), which improves water consumption and stress tolerance by controlling guard cell aperture and other protective responses1,2. One attractive strategy for controlling water use is to develop compounds that activate ABA receptors, but agonists approved for use have yet to be developed. In principle, an engineered ABA receptor that can be activated by an existing agrochemical could achieve this goal. Here we describe a variant of the ABA receptor PYRABACTIN RESISTANCE 1 (PYR1) that possesses nanomolar sensitivity to the agrochemical mandipropamid and demonstrate its efficacy for controlling ABA responses and drought tolerance in transgenic plants. Furthermore, crystallographic studies provide a mechanistic basis for its activity and demonstrate the relative ease with which the PYR1 ligand-binding pocket can be altered to accommodate new ligands. Thus, we have successfully repurposed an agrochemical for a new application using receptor engineering. We anticipate that this strategy will be applied to other plant receptors and represents a new avenue for crop improvement.

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Protein Data Bank

Data deposits

The X-ray crystallographic coordinates and structure factor files for the engineered PYR1 mandipropamid receptor in complex with mandipropamid and HAB1 have been deposited in the Protein Data Bank under accession number 4WVO.


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We thank N. Chen for technical assistance constructing the K59R pocket library, J. Mandal for RNA-seq library preparation, D. Jensen for protein production, J. Bailey-Serres for comments on the manuscript and M. Nuccio, M. Nina and F. Early for suggestions regarding candidate agrochemicals. This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (IOS 1258175, MCB 1022378 to S.R.C.), Syngenta Corporation (S.R.C. and F.P.), and a United States–Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Postdoctoral Fellowship F1-440-2010 (to A.M.).

Author information

Author notes

    • Sang-Youl Park
    • , Francis C. Peterson
    •  & Assaf Mosquna

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • Assaf Mosquna

    Present address: Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture, Faculty of Agriculture, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot 7610001, Israel.


  1. Center for Plant Cell Biology and Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside, California 92521, USA

    • Sang-Youl Park
    • , Assaf Mosquna
    • , Jin Yao
    •  & Sean R. Cutler
  2. Institute for Integrative Genome Biology, Riverside, California 92521, USA

    • Sang-Youl Park
    • , Assaf Mosquna
    • , Jin Yao
    •  & Sean R. Cutler
  3. Department of Biochemistry, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53226, USA

    • Francis C. Peterson
    •  & Brian F. Volkman


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S.-Y.P. and A.M. conducted protein mutagenesis experiments. S.-Y.P. conducted and J.Y. analysed the RNA-seq experiments. F.C.P. conducted the protein crystallography experiments. S.-Y.P. constructed and analysed transgenic plants. B.F.V. and S.R.C. designed and supervised experiments collaboratively with all co-authors. S.R.C. conceived the project and wrote the manuscript with input from all co-authors.

Competing interests

S.R.C. receives research funding from Syngenta Corporation and is an inventor on a patent application related to the work described.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sean R. Cutler.

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