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: 'Tiger heavyweight' Nepal hosts anti-poaching summit

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Arsenic stubbornly taints many US wells, say new reports

13 hours ago

Naturally occurring arsenic in private wells threatens people in many U.S. states and parts of Canada, according to a package of a dozen scientific papers to be published next week. The studies, focused mainly ...

Planck: Gravitational waves remain elusive

14 hours ago

Despite earlier reports of a possible detection, a joint analysis of data from ESA's Planck satellite and the ground-based BICEP2 and Keck Array experiments has found no conclusive evidence of primordial ...

Evidence mounts for quantum criticality theory

15 hours ago

A new study by a team of physicists at Rice University, Zhejiang University, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Florida State University and the Max Planck Institute adds to the growing body of evidence supporting ...

Recommended for you

'Tiger heavyweight' Nepal hosts anti-poaching summit

15 hours ago

Nepal's success in turning tiger-fearing villagers into their protectors has seen none of the endangered cats killed for almost three years, offering key lessons for an anti-poaching summit opening in Kathmandu ...

GMO mosquito plan sparks outcry in Florida

Jan 31, 2015

A British company's plan to unleash hordes of genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida to reduce the threat of dengue fever and other diseases has sparked an outcry from fearful residents.

Population genomics unveil seahorse domain

Jan 30, 2015

In a finding vital to effective species management, a team including City College of New York biologists has determined that the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) is more a permanent resident of the we ...

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.