Chemical biology approaches in plant stress research

  • Chalivendra C. Subbaiah
Review Article


In addition to their importance as essential agrochemicals and life-saving drugs, small molecules serve as powerful research tools to address questions at all levels of biological complexity from protein function to plant biotic interactions. In certain contexts, chemical tools are complementary or even preferred to genetic analysis, since not all experimental systems are amenable for genetic dissection. For example, mutants impaired in oxygen sensing cannot easily be recovered. Pharmacological and chemical genetics approaches have come to the rescue of biologists in unraveling such genetically intractable systems. In this review, I have discussed my own efforts to analyze oxygen deprivation signaling in plants to illustrate the validity of small molecular approaches in elucidating an essential pathway such as oxygen sensing. Chemical biology is also a potent approach to tease out genetically redundant biological processes. The recent breakthrough in identifying the elusive abscisic acid receptors has clearly demonstrated the power of chemical tools in dissecting redundant pathways and led to the blossoming of this area as a distinct discipline of plant biology research. I present a summary of this work and conclude the review with potential challenges in using chemical tools.


Chemical biology Small molecules Chemical space Essential pathways Redundant pathways 



Abscisic acid


Alcohol dehydrogenase


Alternative oxidase


Diversity Oriented Synthesis


Ruthenium red


Target Oriented Synthesis



I thank Dr. Martin M. Sachs, USDA-ARS, University of Illinois, for his support in developing the project on signaling of oxygen deprivation in plants and Valent BioSciences Corporation, Illinois, for opportunities to revive my interest in chemical biology and hypoxia research.


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Copyright information

© Society for Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Valent BioSciences CorporationLong GroveUSA

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