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A recent study by researchers from the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography (XIEG) found a gene from Tamarix hispida that may help in improving the abiotic stress tolerance of desert plants. 

The gene, functions by enhancing osmotic potential and decreasing reactive oxygen species accumulation. 

Basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) is a protein that defines a family of transcription factors. Proteins that contain a bHLH domain are involved in various regulatory processes, such as modulating secondary metabolism pathways, epidermal differentiation, and responses to environmental factors in plants. 

Tamarix hispida is a kind of shrubs widely distributed in saline soils of drought-stricken areas of Central Asia. WANG Yucheng and his team from XIEG functionally characterized a bHLH gene with abiotic stress tolerance from the shrub. The gene was called ThbHLH1. 

The team of scientists found that overexpression of ThbHLH1 will significantly increase Ca2+ concentration and decrease reactive oxygen species accumulation. Additionally, ThbHLH1 regulates the expression of a certain group of genes to activate the above physiological changes, and also induces the expression of a serial of stress tolerance-related genes. 

“ThbHLH1 could induce the expression of many stress tolerance-related genes to improve abiotic stress tolerance by increasing osmotic potential, improving ROS scavenging capability and enhancing second messenger in stress signaling cascades,” said WANG. 

Their studies showed that ThbHLH1 modulates abiotic stress tolerance by regulating the expression of genes to activate a series of stress-related physiological changes. This may shed light on future studies about the functions of bHLH transcription factors during stress tolerance. 

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