Scientists urge new approaches to plant research

Jun 29, 2012

You'd be amazed at how much you can learn from a plant.

In a paper published this week in the journal Science, a Michigan State University professor and a colleague discuss why if humans are to survive as a species, we must turn more to plants for any number of valuable lessons.

"Metabolism of plants provides humans with fiber, fuel, food and therapeutics," said Robert Last, an MSU professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. "As the grows and nonrenewable diminish, we need to rely increasingly on plants and to increase the of agriculture."

However, Last and co-author Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute of Science point out that despite decades of plant genetic engineering, there are relatively few types of commercial products originating from this body of work.

"This is in part because we do not understand enough about the vastly complex set of metabolic reactions that plants employ," Last said. "It's like designing and building a bridge armed only with of existing bridges."

The authors say that perhaps the best approach is to bring together a variety of disciplines – not just plant scientists – to study how plants operate.

They also suggest looking hard at what brought plants to the place they are today – evolution.

"We think that understanding design principles of plant metabolism will be aided by considering how hundreds of millions of years of evolution has led to well-conserved examples of metabolic pathways," Last said.

One of the amazing aspects of plant metabolism is this: It must continuously strike a balance between evolving to meet an ever-changing environment while maintaining the internal stability needed to carry on life as it knows it.

In addition, the authors point out that plants experiment with specialized (also called secondary) which can produce novel chemicals that are used to defend against pathogens and herbivores.

"Humans benefit from this 'arms race' because some of these compounds have important therapeutic properties," Last said. "Unfortunately, design principles are not so well studied in these rapidly evolving metabolic processes. Using new approaches, including considering optimality principles, will lead to advances in medicinal chemistry as well as creating more and healthier food."

Last is Barnett Rosenberg chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Plant Biology. Co-author Milo is a professor of plant sciences at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science.

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1 / 5 (6) Jun 29, 2012
By all means bring together a variety of disciplines to study how plants operate.

But no reason to "look hard" at evolution for such detail. Look instead at the hand of God in providing such an amazing variety of plant life for our enjoyment and learning.

I believe there remains countless discoveries to be made from the plant kingdom.

5 / 5 (4) Jun 30, 2012
Nature is its own universe of marvels that may appear to be the garden of some munificent king, but is glorious simply because life is glorious. Nature bows to no man or god, and exists to recreate continuously, organically, and independently of any force except its own and nothing will stop it, not even our beliefs.
1 / 5 (6) Jun 30, 2012
@Telekenetic: Once your "nature" has been shown beyond dispute to be the originator of life, then and only then, will it be shown that nature bows to no man or god.
Until then, strangely enough, you are simply displaying an incredible FAITH in that whichwe call nature. So you are indeed deifying nature as a god. Seems to contradict your own statement, me thinks.
Why do you think the scientist are saying the chemical processes in plants are so immearurably complex? It's because they are fully aware that there's no snowball's chance in hell that life could have arisen spontaneously all by natural processes without some intelligent interence from outside of nature.
One has only to look at the most simple of proteins to realize just how impossible it would be to arrange 300 amino acids in a particular sequence - with ALL of them being left-handed, thru a random process.
The very science you so trust, condemns a belief in life arising spontaneously from ordinary matter. Check it out.
5 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2012
Creating life in a test tube is right around the corner if you've been following recent work in the lab. You, like many others, can't comprehend what a billion years is in the grand scheme of things. If I had even a million years to play with, I would be able to read "War and Peace" at least four or five times. If you think I've deified nature, then yes, I worship hemlocks, tornadoes, birds that make their nests in tall grass, air bubbles that form just below the surface of a frozen puddle, etc. These are tangible things of great beauty and even mystery, but would I ask you or anyone to come kneel beside me in devotion? Never in a million years. I believe that the organization of molecules combined with the driving force of survival, like the ancient viruses of our DNA, over countless eons have brought us to this point.

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