Making a difference 2020-2021

CELL GATEKEEPERS COULD BE THE KEY TO BETTER CROPS Research at The Australian National University has shed new light on the network of gatekeepers controlling the ‘traffic’ of molecules in and out of plant cells, a discovery that could hold the key to developing food crops with increased yields. A sieve of microscopic pores made of special proteins called aquaporins are gatekeepers that control the flow of molecules across cell membranes needed for plant growth. Aquaporins are found in all Kingdoms of life, from bacteria to humans. In plants, they are vital for numerous processes including water transport, growth and development, stress responses, root nutrient uptake, and photosynthesis. Led by former PhD student, Dr Annamaria De Rosa and Dr Michael Groszmann from Professor John Evans’ research group in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP), the researchers say that the discovery could also open the door to crops with an improved ability to cope with extreme environments. ‘We knowthat if we are able to manipulate aquaporins, it will enable numerous useful applications for agriculture, including improving crop productivity – but first we need to knowmore about their diversity, evolutionary history and the many functional roles they have inside the plant,’ Dr De Rosa says. The research has identified all the different types of aquaporins found in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), a model plant species closely related to major economic crops such as tomato, potato, eggplant and capsicum. Potential applications for crop improvement include increased photosynthesis, more efficient water and fertiliser use, improved drought tolerance and more effective response to disease infection.


Michael Groszmann, John Evans and Annamaria De Rosa in the glasshouse with tobacco plants. Credit: Natalia Bateman Vargas.



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