Vitamin E crucial to plants' survival of the cold, study finds

Nov 27, 2006

Vitamin E does not play the same role in plants as it does in animals and humans, scientists from the University of Toronto and Michigan State University have found. Rather than protect fats in membranes from certain kinds of stress, Vitamin E instead fulfils a crucial role in plants’ nutrient transport system in cold temperatures. The surprising finding, which has the potential to be applied in the development of biofuels and cold-tolerance in crops, was reported in a recent cover story of The Plant Cell.

Vitamin E is an essential nutrient to all mammals and its role has been widely studied in animals, but little research had been done on how Vitamin E functions in plants, says Tammy Sage of U of T’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology. In animal systems, Vitamin E acts as an anti-oxidant that helps prevent lipids in membranes from stress. Sage and her colleagues decided to investigate the long-standing, but still largely untested hypothesis that the vitamin would function similarly in plants. “That wasn’t what happened at all,” says Sage. “The result was quite unexpected.”

Researchers subjected a Vitamin E-deficient mutant of an Arabidopsis plant to stresses like high salinity, intense light and drought and measured the results. A lack of Vitamin E did not harm the lipid oxidation or photosynthesis processes but, under non-freezing cold conditions, did cause particular cells responsible for food and water transportation to accumulate a carbohydrate called callose in their cell walls. The increase of callose in these cells inhibited regular food movement from the leaves to the rest of the plant and caused a buildup of sugars and starch within the leaves.”

“Without this food movement, the plant produces fewer seeds,” explains Sage. “We realized Vitamin E is essential for plants to be able to continue to reproduce well in lower temperatures.”

There may be practical applications to this discovery, Sage says. The information could be useful to researchers seeking ways to develop species of plants resistant to cold temperatures. And researchers involved in alternative energy production may take interest.

“There is a lot of current interest in extracting cellulose from plant cell walls to produce biofuels,” explains Sage, “but it takes a large amount of energy to break cellulose down into the carbohydrates that are needed. If you had a plant that had already accumulated an abundance of sugars and starch in the leaves, then you wouldn’t have to worry as much about breaking down the cellulose to make biofuels.”

Source: University of Toronto

Explore further: 'Subirdia' author urges appreciation of birds that co-exist where we work, live, play

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Revealing political partisanship a bad idea on resumes

3 minutes ago

Displaced political aides looking for a new, nonpartisan job in the wake of the midterm power shuffle may fare better if they tone down any political references on their resumes, finds a new study from Duke University.

Recommended for you

Brain folding

1 minute ago

The neocortex is the part of the brain that enables us to speak, dream, or think. The underlying mechanism that led to the expansion of this brain region during evolution, however, is not yet understood. ...

How calcium regulates mitochondrial carrier proteins

43 minutes ago

Mitochondrial carriers are a family of proteins that play the key role of transporting a chemically diverse range of molecules across the inner mitochondrial membrane. Mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carriers are part of ...

Precise measurements of microbial ecosystems

1 hour ago

The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) has succeeded for the first time in describing the complex relationships within an ecosystem in unprecedented detail. For their work, carried out in collaboration ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.