From the Scotsman, news about a team of scientists at Edinburgh University testing algae and discovering that renewal of old or damaged cell proteins might help plant adaptation to rapidly changing climates, such as frost or drought.

Examining microalgae, the researchers found the organisms’ adaptability was dictated by the speed of the protein renewal, which varied according to their role and location within cells.

Proteins responsible for photosynthesis, for example, renew quickly because of the risk of light damage. Meanwhile, proteins protecting the DNA in plant cells have little risk of damage and were found to renew slowly.

Dr. Sarah Martin, of the University’s Centre for Systems Biology, who led the study, said application of the research to crops was still a long way off, but this was an essential first step.

The research used computer programming to measure the renewal rates of many proteins simultaneously, rather than just one or two at a time. This gave the scientists a better understanding of how single-celled Ostreococcus tauri responded to their environment, Dr. Martin said.

These algae contain just 8,200 genes, compared to hundreds of thousands in many tree species, making it ideal for studying proteins and the networks in which they work.

“These algae are very early and simple life forms,” Dr. Martin said, “but many of their responses are similar to crops we grow today. It enables us to understand the basic principles of adaptation and survival without the added complexity of land plants. Based in this research and adapting our method to crop species, we can work towards breeding crops that can respond quickly to specific conditions.”