Plant science is key to addressing the major challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century, according to Carnegie’s David Ehrhardt and Wolf Frommer. In a Perspective published in The Plant Cell, the two researchers argue that the development of new technology is key to transforming plant biology in order to meet human needs.
The major difference between plant and animal cells is the photosynthetic process, which converts light energy into chemical energy. When light isn’t available, energy is generated by breaking down carbohydrates and sugars, just as it is in animal and some bacterial cells. Two cellular organelles are responsible for these two processes: the chloroplasts for photosynthesis and the mitochondria for sugar breakdown. New research from Carnegie’s Eva Nowack and Arthur Grossman has opened a window into the early stages of chloroplast evolution.
Along with photosynthesis, the plant cell wall is one of the features that most set plants apart from animals. A structural molecule called cellulose is necessary for the manufacture of these walls. Cellulose is synthesized in a semi-crystalline state that is essential for its function in the cell wall function, but the mechanisms controlling its crystallinity are poorly understood. New research from a team including current and former Carnegie scientists reveals key information about this process, as well as a means to reduce cellulose crystallinity, which is a key stumbling block in biofuels development.
Plants leaves are sealed with a gas-tight wax layer to prevent water loss. Plants breathe through microscopic pores called stomata (Greek for mouths) on the surfaces of leaves. Over 40% of the carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere passes through stomata each year, as well a water volume twice that of the whole atmosphere. As the key conduits for CO2 uptake and water evaporation, stomata are critical for both our climate and plant productivity. Thus, not surprisingly, the total number and distribution of stomata are strictly regulated by plants to optimize photosynthesis while minimizing water loss. The mechanisms for such regulation have remained elusive.
Plant roots are fascinating plant organs – they not only anchor the plant, but are also the world’s most efficient mining companies. Roots live in darkness and direct the activities of the other organs, as well as interact with the surrounding environment. Charles Darwin posited in The Power of Movement of Plants that the root system acts as a plant’s brain. Due to the difficulty of accessing root tissue in intact live plants, research of these hidden parts has always lagged behind research on the more visible parts of plants. But now: a new technology--developed jointly by Carnegie and Stanford University--could revolutionize root research.
Food prices are soaring at the same time as the Earth’s population is nearing 9 billion. As a result the need for increased crop yields is extremely important. New research led by Carnegie’s Wolf Frommer into the system by which sugars are moved throughout a plant—from the leaves to the harvested portions and elsewhere—could be crucial for addressing this problem. Their work is published December 8 by Science Express.
The four largest nonprofit plant science research institutions in the U.S. have joined forces to form the Association of Independent Plant Research Institutes (AIPI) in an effort to target plant science research to meet the profound challenges facing society in a more coordinated and rapid fashion.
José Dinneny and 5 members of his lab have moved from the Temasek Lifesciences Laboratory in Singapore to their new home in building 100 of the DPB. José's current work is aimed at understanding how plants acclimate to changes in salinity and water levels, two of the most important parameters of soil influencing agricultural productivity.
Plant biologists have been working for years to nail down the series of chemical signals that one class of plant hormones, called brassinosteroids, send from a protein on the surface of a plant cell to the cell’s nucleus. New research from Carnegie scientists Tae-Wuk Kim and Zhiyong Wang, with contributions from the University of California San Francisco, isolated another link in this chain. Fully understanding the brassinosteroid pathway could help scientists better understand plant growth and help improve food and energy crop production.
"Because of their small size, many of the top-ranked institutions are also nimble. Rather than isolating researchers in individual laboratories, they literally knock down the walls to encourage collaboration."