Sniffed out: The 'gas detectors' of the plant world

Jan 23, 2014

The elusive trigger that allows plants to 'see' the gas nitric oxide (NO), an important signalling molecule, has been tracked down by scientists at The University of Nottingham. It is the first time that a central mechanism for the detection of NO in plants has been identified.

Led by Professor Michael Holdsworth in the School of Biosciences, a team of experts, including researchers from UK and EU Universities and government research institutes, have found the 'master regulators' that control the detection of NO by and that regulate many important aspects of plant growth and response to environmental stress.

Their research "Nitric oxide sensing in plants is mediated by proteolytic control of GroupVII ERF transcription factors" is published on Thursday January 23 2014 in the academic journal Molecular Cell.

Plants fine-tune their growth and survival in response to various signals, including internal hormones and external factors such as light or temperature. Nitric oxide gas is one such signal.

Professor Holdsworth said: "In plants, NO regulates many different processes throughout the plant's lifetime from seeds to flowering and responses to the environment. Although the effect of NO on plants has been known for many years, a general mechanism for the initial sensing of this important molecule has remained elusive. We have identified a small number of key proteins, called transcription factors, which act as 'master sensors' to control NO responses throughout the plant life cycle."

A specific structure at the beginning of these proteins means that they are rapidly degraded in the presence of NO. However, when NO is absent they become stable, resulting in changed growth and development. This mechanism allows plants to sense the NO signal and alter its growth accordingly.

Interestingly, these proteins had previously been shown to control the plant response to low oxygen stress, which occurs when plants are flooded. Therefore they appear to act as central "gas detectors", providing plants with an inbuilt mechanism for sensing and responding to different gas signals.

Due to the importance of both NO and oxygen in plant development and stress responses, these proteins represent promising targets in the development of crops that have improved agricultural traits, particularly in relation to climate change.

The work was carried out by Professor Holdsworth and his team in the School of Biosciences in collaboration with researchers at the Universities of Sheffield, Warwick, Vienna, Rothamsted Research in the United Kingdom and CSIC-IBMCP in Valencia, Spain.

Explore further: New discovery could stimulate plant growth and increase crop yields, researchers say

Related Stories

Team discovers how plants avoid sunburn

Aug 06, 2013

A Dartmouth-led team has discovered a group of stress-related proteins that explains how plants avoid sunburn in intense light, a finding that one day could help biotechnologists to develop crops that can better cope with ...

Talking plants… science fiction?

Jan 21, 2014

Science is becoming closer emulating the fiction of the Avatar movie, by deciphering plants' electrical signals to devise new holistic environmental biosensors.

Nitric oxide regulates plants as well as people

Apr 28, 2008

Nitric oxide has emerged as an important signaling molecule in plants - as in mammals including people. In studies of a tropical medicinal herb as a model plant, researchers have found that nitric oxide targets a number of ...

Recommended for you

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Apr 17, 2014

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...