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article imageProtecting plants from toxins

By Tim Sandle     May 27, 2014 in Science
Lisbon - Zinc is essential for plant growth and development, but if too much of the metal are present in the soil, it can become toxic to the plant. Researchers have discovered a novel genetic mechanism that protects plants from toxic zinc levels.
To arrive at this mechanism, researchers identified a gene that produces a protein capable of sequestering zinc inside the cells of the root. In the presence of high levels of zinc, this gene undergoes a special processing which ensures more production of a protecting protein.
Zinc is essential for plants. In plants, zinc plays a key role as a structural constituent or regulatory co-factor of a wide range of different enzymes in many important biochemical pathways and these are mainly concerned with:
a) carbohydrate metabolism, both in photosynthesis and in the conversion of sugars to starch,
b) protein metabolism,
c) auxin (growth regulator) metabolism,
d) pollen formation,
e) the maintenance of the integrity of biological membranes,
f) the resistance to infection by certain pathogens.
However, too much zinc can be toxic. This has led to a study as to why some plants can cope with higher levels of zinc than others, and this study has led to the discovery of a special gene.
The novel gene has been named ZIF2. By using a plant model Arabidopsis thaliana, the researchers found that the ZIF2 gene produces a protein that transports zinc ions into a 'compartment' (the vacuole) of root cells, thus preventing its dispersion to other plant organs.
It appears that some plants have developed a special genetic mechanism that allows them to protect plants from toxic levels of zinc. It is the zinc that triggers more production of a protein that then acts to retain this heavy metal in the root of plants, avoiding its toxic effects on leaves, flowers, and other aerial parts of the plant.
The study was carried out at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC). The findings have been published in the journal PLoS Genetics, in a paper headed “Retention in the 5′UTR of the Novel ZIF2 Transporter Enhances Translation to Promote Zinc Tolerance in Arabidopsis.”
More about Plants, Zinc, Toxins, Metal
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