New research from the University of Western Australia has revealed that plants make their own “secret” decisions about how much carbon to release back into the atmosphere through a previously unknown process, a discovery with “profound implications” for using plants as carbon stores.
Professor Harvey Millar, of UWA’s School of Molecular Sciences and an author of the study published today in Nature Plantssaid the findings mean plants of the future could be designed to meet the world’s food needs while helping the environment.
“Every student learns about photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to create oxygen and energy in the form of sugar,” said Professor Millar, director of the ARC Center of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.
“But a plant doesn’t grow as fast as the carbon it takes up through photosynthesis because it releases up to half of that carbon back as CO2 in the process of plant respiration. This prevents plants from being the best carbon sinks they could be and limits how much they can help the atmospheric CO. to lower2†
A carbon sink is anything that takes up more carbon from the atmosphere than it gives off.
Professor Millar said deciding when and how much CO2 Losing is a secret that plants keep locked up in parts of the cell called mitochondria, where CO2 release takes place.
“Our research, led by Ph.D. candidate and Forrest Scholar Xuyen Le, discovered this CO2 release decision is determined by a previously unknown process, a metabolic channel that causes a sugar product called pyruvate to be oxidized to CO2 or preserved to make biomass from plants,” said Professor Millar.
“We found that a transporter on mitochondria sends pyruvate to respiration to release CO2but pyruvate made in other ways is kept by plant cells to build biomass — if the transporter is blocked, plants use pyruvate from other pathways for respiration,” Le said.
Professor Millar said the research shows that plants can differentiate and choose one pyruvate source over another to use for CO2 release. This secret process violates the normal rules of biochemistry, where the next step in a process doesn’t know the origin of the product from the step before.
“Understanding the plant’s respiratory secret of using a metabolic tract to prioritize carbon release over preserving it to make biomass provides another opportunity to influence last minute decision,” he said.
“This can be done by limiting this channeling to respiration or by creating new channels to divert carbon in the mitochondria back to biomass production and thus limit CO2 emissions.2 released from plants.”
“It shows that current discussions about carbon neutrality and the role that crops, forests and grasslands can play should also include conversations about what happens in plants, in addition to global financial decisions.”
UWA researchers are now engaged in long-term international collaborations to find better ways to use energy from respiration to divert carbon to biomass without a plant’s ability to grow and protect itself from pathogens or harsh environments.
Altered gene helps plants absorb more carbon dioxide, produce more useful compounds
Xuyen H. Le et al, Metabolic evidence for distinct pyruvate pools in plant mitochondria, Nature Plants (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41477-022-01165-3
The secret carbon decisions factories are making about our future (2022, June 10)
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