You probably must have known how important protein is for humans, but it is just as critical for plants to stay healthy and vigorous. Researchers have discovered how a protein in plant roots controls the uptake of minerals and water. This was a finding which could improve the tolerance of crops to climate change and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. That means we can get fresh and chemical-free fruits and veggies.
What protein provide to plants?
Let’s first have quick info about what protein is, so you can understand how it works for your plants. Proteins are complex molecules that are composed of up to 20 different amino acids. Just so you recognize them they are alanine, arginine, aspartate, asparagine, cysteine, glutamate, glutamine, glycine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, proline, serine, threonine, tryptophan, tyrosine, and valine.
To make a protein molecule, the amino acids form into the chain. The specific sequence of the types of amino acids in the chain determines the particular function of the protein. For instance, some proteins are the structural components of cells – that is, the cell’s walls. Other proteins act as transport molecules, carrying varieties of nutrients to be used. Certain types of protein function as enzymes that trigger metabolic reactions within cells, while others provide storage for sugars and other nutrients. Plants synthesize proteins from the amino acids found in nitrogen fertilizer, as well as in the carbon and oxygen absorbed from air, and hydrogen from water.
Why is protein needed?
- Calcium uptake: Amino acids stimulate root cells to open up the channels for calcium absorption. It is essential for building rigid cell walls and healthy root systems. It also transports nutrients from the roots and accelerates cell division and expansion, which leads to the rapid growth of stems, leaves, flowers, and more.
- Stress protection: Strong cell walls help protect plants from stress. If the amino acid levels are too low, plants may even cannibalize the proteins used to protect cell walls to obtain the essential amino acids it needs for hormone production.
- Pollen production: Amino acids, particularly lysine, are central to the production of plant pollen.
- Light and dark sensitivity: One of the keys to growing plants that bear fruit or flower buds indoors is managing the light and dark cycle, known as “photoperiod,” to stimulate the start of the reproductive process (blooming) when plants reach maturity.
Need for Food security
Food security represents a pressing global issue. Crop production is estimated to double by 2050 to keep pace with global population growth. This target is even more challenging given the impact of climate change on water availability and the drive to reduce fertilizer inputs to make agriculture more environmentally sustainable. In both cases, developing crops with improved water and nutrient uptake efficiency would provide a solution.
Plant protein discovery
This research is important in revealing the molecular mechanisms underpinning efforts to improve nutrient and water uptake efficiencies and enhanced stress tolerance, making crops more able to withstand flooding, drought, nutrient deficiencies, and trace element toxicities.
Plant roots perform the critical function of controlling the uptake of water and mineral nutrients from the soil essential for plant growth and development. A specialized cell layer in the root called the endodermis plays a key role in the selective uptake of mineral nutrients.
Members of the blue copper proteins family, the Uclacyanins ( plant-specific mononuclear blue copper proteins) are vital in the formation of Casparian strips(waterproof, corky tissue important for the root pressure). Casparian strips (CSs) are belt-like lignin structures that enable the endodermis to exert control over the uptake of water and solutes from the environment into the plant and also controls biotic interactions.
This blue copper protein family biosynthesize lignin (one of the most abundant organic polymers on earth) for CS formation. The molecular machinery required for Casparian strip lignin deposition is highly ordered by forming Nano-domains which can have a huge impact on plant nutrition. This finding could help in the development of crops that are efficient in taking in the nutrients they need.
Such improvements in agricultural and horticultural crops could also potentially benefit subsistence farmers with limited access to inorganic fertilizers which include nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, and also Sulphur and magnesium. This would help to reduce the cost burden such fertilizers impose and reduce the environmental and ecological damage their production and excess use causes. Improved water use efficiency and stress tolerance will also improve yields for subsistence farmers cultivating marginal lands.
An improved understanding of how roots acquire important trace elements and minerals should provide an important molecular mechanistic underpinning efforts to improve food quality by helping to increase the content of essential mineral nutrients and reduce toxic trace elements in food crops.
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B.Tech Student at NIFTEM (National Institute of Food Technology and Entrepreneurship and Management)