According to Cutler, pyrabactin has paved the way for manufacturing new molecules that activate or turn on receptors.

“For it to be a good agriculture chemical, however, it needs to turn on more receptors by fitting into their pockets,” he said. “If a derivative of pyrabactin could be found that is capable of turning on all the receptors for drought tolerance, the implications for agriculture are enormous. The current research is an important step on the way to what is likely to be the next big result: an ABA-mimicking chemical that can be sprayed on corn, soy bean and other crops.”

The discovery of pyrabactin by the Cutler lab was heralded as a breakthrough research of 2009 by Science magazine.

In the current research, Cutler collaborated with Brian Volkman and his research group at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and helped guide critical questions.

“Specifically, we performed genetic experiments that helped us pinpoint which amino acids in the receptors are critical for pyrabactin to either work or not work,” Cutler said. “We also identified reasons for why one receptor is sensitive to pyrabactin while a neighboring receptor is not.”

A grant from the National Science Foundation supported Cutler’s contribution to the study.

Cutler and Volkman were joined in the study by Francis C. Peterson (first author of the research paper), Davin R. Jensen and Joshua J. Weiner of the Medical College of Wisconsin; Sethe Burgie, Craig A. Bingman and George N. Phillips, Jr. of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Sang-Youl Park and Chia-En Chang of UCR.

Companion paper

Cutler is a coauthor also on a companion paper, titled “Identification and Mechanism of ABA Receptor Antagonism,” that appears online Aug. 22 in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. He joins the following researchers in that study: Karsten Melcher (first author), Yong Xu, Ley-Moy Ng, X. Edward Zhou, Fen-Fen Soon, Kelly M. Suino-Powell, Amanda Kovach, Jun Li and H. Eric Xu of the Van Andel Research Institute, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Eu-Leong Yong of the National University of Singapore; and Viswanathan Chinnusamy, Fook S. Tham, and Jian-Kang Zhu of UCR.