Oxford Brookes Biologists Contribute To Ensuring World Population's Food Supply

Thursday, 01 August 2019

Pant and Jack news

The cell wall regulates dynamics and size of plasma-membrane nanodomains in Arabidopsis

Investigations by Oxford Brookes University cell biologists reveal that the plant cell wall, which acts as armour and scaffolding encasing every plant cell, is important in regulating intracellular processes. This could have long term implications for plant biotechnology and in ensuring the food supply for the world’s burgeoning population.

Led by Dr Joseph McKenna and Professor John Runions of Oxford Brookes’ Department of Biological and Medicals Sciences and funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) grant to Professor John Runions, this work was only possible due to the super-resolution microscope systems available at Oxford Brookes and at the Science and Technology Facilities Council-funded Central Laser Facility (CLF) in Harwell, Oxfordshire whose scientists collaborated in the research effort.

   “The investment in state-of-the-art microscopy systems at Brookes allows us to see structures in a way which we wouldn’t have believed possible 10 years ago. This combined with the extreme resolving power available at the CLF allows us to monitor the movement of individual molecules, the machines of life, within the cell membrane.”  Dr Joe McKenna 

Their research demonstrates that the cell wall of plants can control the organisation of proteins located in the membrane. Animals can move away from threats but plants are unable to do this. For this reason, the plant cell membrane contains a large number of proteins which are involved in perceiving the environment so that plants can respond to threats utilising the plant equivalent of our immune system. Recently it has been shown that these proteins are located in numerous clusters or islands within the membrane. This work has demonstrated that the size of two such clusters which include proteins pivotal in normal plant development and perception of the environment is controlled by the cell wall. By artificially modifying cell wall structure, we wereable to alter the size of these protein clusters. One day this could increase their efficiency in perceiving bacterial and fungal threats. These proteins are so important for normal growth of plants and perception of the environment that understanding how they interact by observing them at the molecular level will one day help to reduce food losses due to pathogen attack.

  "We can’t create new farmland so our only recourse is to make plants that produce food for us and our animals more efficiently.”  Professor John Runions

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