Plants sensory abilities discovered

Without the traditional sensory organs we associate with our own 5 senses, you’d be forgiven for assuming plants detect their environment differently to us.

However, the membrane protein receptors found in plants are strikingly similar to our own. Known as Leucine-Rich Repeat (LRR) receptor kinases, they detect chemical signals, such as the surface proteins of pathogens, and trigger cellular responses. In a world with a constantly changing environment and a rapidly growing demand for food, plant resistance is an important area of study.

Little at a cellular level occurs in isolation, though, with many membrane proteins known to join together and form complexes in order to detect signals and trigger responses. An international team led by Youssef Belkhadir, at the Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology, Austria, undertook 40,000 interaction tests on over 400 LRRreceptor kinases.

The labs of David Guttman and Darrell Desveaux at the University of Toronto, Canada, Cyril Zipfel at The Sainsbury Laboratory, UK, and Shahid Mukhtar at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, all built on Belkhadir’s work to create the first network map of 200 receptors. Shahid Mukhtar said: “This is pioneering work to identify the first layer of interactions among these proteins. An understanding of these interactions could lead to ways to increase a plant’s resistance to pathogens, or to other stresses like heat, drought, salinity or cold shock.”

Before this study, the functions of only a few of the over 600 LRRreceptor kinases were known, and even less was understood about how they worked together. Nowadays, receptors are key for the coordination of environmental responses. APEX is one receptor whose removal disrupts plant immunity, despite not being directly associated with the receptors involved with the response.

The network map, published in Nature, provides a more complete picture of the molecular processes involved in a plant’s response to environmental changes, in particular attacks from pathogens.

It forms a vital basis for future research into crop genetics that will allow our commercial crops to be more resistant to disease and climate change.


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Ruth Dickens

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December 2021
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