Author: Shrushti Joshi, Predoctoral Research – PhD Student at Savitribai Phule Pune University

In the field of agricultural science, understanding the intricacies of soybean resilience holds profound significance. Soybeans (Glycine max) are a pivotal crop species, highly regarded for their versatility and their substantial contribution to global food and feed supplies, as well as biofuel production. The pressing challenges we face, including food security, sustainability in agriculture, and climate change mitigation, underscore the need for a deep understanding of soybean adaptability and resilience. One pressing concern that has been increasingly underscored is the impact of soil salinity on soybean cultivation. To address this challenge, innovative techniques like hyperspectral reflectance and imaging have been employed to monitor the impact of salt stress on plants, particularly in soybean leaves. However, most global crop species are glycophytic, meaning they are susceptible to salinity, resulting in significant yield losses in both quantity and quality.

The main goal of this blog post is to shed light on the intricate mechanisms that govern the BONZAI genes, illuminating their pivotal role and the complexities of their regulated expression within saline environments.

The Intricate Relationship Between Salinity Stress and the BONZAI Genes

Under salt stress, plants face the daunting task of managing excess sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl‾) ions, a complex process that involves various ion channels and cellular transport mechanisms. Calcium ions (Ca2+), an essential secondary messenger for plant growth and development under normal and stress conditions, play a pivotal role. In response to salt exposure, plant cells exhibit a rapid and transient increase in cytosolic Ca2+, which serves as a signaling cascade for physiological responses. The soil salinity affects plants on many aspects:

  1. Reduced Water Uptake: Salinity hinders a plant’s ability to absorb water from the soil, leading to water stress and reduced turgor pressure.
  2. Ion Imbalance: High salt levels disrupt the balance of essential ions, such as potassium and calcium, impacting nutrient uptake and cellular processes.
  3. Osmotic Stress: Excess salts create osmotic stress, causing water to move out of plant cells, resulting in wilting and reduced growth.
  4. Toxic Ion Accumulation: Accumulation of toxic ions like sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl‾) can damage plant tissues and inhibit metabolic functions.
  5. Growth Inhibition: Salinity stress stunts plant growth, resulting in reduced biomass, smaller leaves, and overall diminished plant size.
  6. Reduced Yield and Quality: Salinity adversely affects crop yield and quality, diminishing the economic value of harvested produce.
  7. Disrupted Photosynthesis: High salt levels can impair photosynthesis, reducing the plant’s ability to produce energy and nutrients.
  8. Altered Gene Expression: Salinity stress triggers changes in gene expression patterns as plants adapt to adverse conditions.
  9. Increased Susceptibility to Disease: Weakened by salinity stress, plants become more susceptible to pests and diseases.
  10. Soil Degradation: Long-term salinity stress can lead to soil degradation, making it less suitable for future plant growth.

A critical player in this response is the BON (BONZAI) protein. BONs have been identified in various plant species and are involved in defense responses and cell division. Some characteristics of these genes are:

  1. Ca2+-Responsive: They are responsive to changes in calcium ion (Ca2+) levels in the cellular environment, playing a crucial role in calcium-mediated signaling pathways.
  2. Copine Family: They belong to the Copine family of genes, which are characterized by their distinctive domain structure featuring C2 domains and a vWA domain.
  3. Phospholipid-Binding: They have the capacity to bind to phospholipids, particularly in calcium-rich conditions, enabling them to interact with cellular membranes.
  4. Suppression of NLR Signaling: They can suppress nucleotide-binding–leucine-rich repeat (NLR) signaling, a component of plant defense responses.
  5. Involvement in Osmotic Stress Responses: These genes are integral to the regulation of osmotic stress responses, making them critical for plant survival under stressful conditions.
  6. Highly Conserved: They are evolutionarily conserved among protozoa, plants, and animals, underlining their fundamental role in cellular processes.
  7. Influence on Plant Growth and Development: They play a significant role in plant growth, development, and cell division.
  8. Role in Abscisic Acid (ABA) Regulation: They are involved in the regulation of abscisic acid (ABA) accumulation, affecting the response to osmotic stress and water balance in plants.
  9. Motif and Domain Structure: They exhibit a specific motif and domain structure, including C2 domains, vWA domains, and other functional elements.
  10. Potential for Salt Tolerance: Understanding these genes offers potential applications in enhancing salt tolerance in crops, including soybeans, and improving agricultural sustainability.

The intricate relationship between salinity stress and the BONZAI genes unveils a profound interplay at the molecular level within plants. When exposed to salinity stress, BONZAI genes, belonging to the Ca2+-responsive Copine family, come to the forefront of plant defense mechanisms. They serve as key players in cellular responses, particularly osmotic stress reactions. By responding to fluctuating calcium ion levels and engaging in phospholipid binding, these genes modulate critical physiological processes. Their capacity to suppress NLR signaling adds a layer of complexity to plant defense strategies. Understanding this intricate relationship not only sheds light on plant stress responses but also holds significant potential for developing salt-tolerant crops and bolstering agricultural resilience.


In the intricate interplay of plant survival, BONZAI proteins assume a central role. Their role in regulating calcium signaling under extreme conditions like drought and salinity is nothing short of awe-inspiring. This discovery opens up exciting possibilities for creating resilient soybean varieties, a key ingredient in ensuring global food security.

So, the next time you enjoy a soybean-based dish, remember the unsung heroes, the BONZAI proteins, working tirelessly to ensure a bountiful harvest even in the harshest of conditions. Science continues to unveil the remarkable secrets of our green companions, offering hope for a brighter and more sustainable future in agriculture.

Read the paper: Joshi S, Sahoo A, Khare T, Srivastava A, & Kumar V. (2023). Genome-wide identification of BONZAI (BON) genes in Glycine max L. and their regulated expression patterns under saline environment. Current Plant Biology, 33, 100273

Image: soy plant in the field, with close-up of soybean pod. Credit: Julio César García / Pixabay