A University of Missouri plant scientist has discovered a new way to measure stress in plants, which occurs at a time when plants are experiencing multiple stressors such as heat, drought, and floods due to extreme weather events.
The discovery involves a collection of once-vilified molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are produced by everything that uses oxygen, such as animals, people and plants. But MU’s Ron Mittler has discovered a saving quality of ROS: their role as a communication signal that can tell if plants are under stress.
“When heat and drought stressors add up, plants have no groundwater to draw from, so they close their stomata [leaf pores]and that makes the leaves really hot, “said Mittler, whose nomination is at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. That’s why the combination of drought and heat is really dangerous, because the leaf temperature is much higher than with a plant subjected to heat alone. The change can be between two and four degrees and can mean the difference between life and death. “
Plant stress is also linked to crop loss, but existing analytical research on the topic has generally focused on how crops respond to a single stressor. However, Mittler said a plant’s survival rate will drop dramatically as the number of stressors continues to increase from three to six different stressors. The key, he said, is to check the ROS levels. Too much or too little can be harmful, but an optimal level of ROS can be considered safe for life.
Addicted to science
Born and raised in Israel, Mittler wanted to become a veterinarian as he grew up. But, after enrolling at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he remembers spending a summer in the late 1980s as a university student working in an agricultural laboratory, where he became “addicted” to science, particularly the role of ROS in plant. Mittler has studied ROS ever since.
“At the time, we were trying to identify why some cell lines were more resistant to salinity than others,” he said. “It was my first real scientific research problem. But then I started working on desert plants, and from there on reactive oxygen species and blue-green algae. “
“Signaling of reactive oxygen species in plant stress responses,” was published in Nature Journals Molecular Cell Biologya review by Nature. Other authors include Sara Zandalinas and Yosef Fichman at the MU; and Frank Van Breusegem of the University of Ghent in Belgium.
This study was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (IOS-2110017, IOS-1353886, MCB-1936590 and IOS-1932639), National Institutes of Health, University of Missouri Interdisciplinary Plant Group, University of Missouri, Research Foundation – – Founders (project G0D7914N) and Excellence in scientific research (project 30829584). The content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official point of view of the funding bodies.
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