A plant scientist at the University of Missouri has discovered a new way to measure stress in plants, which comes at a time when plants are facing a range of stresses from heat, drought and flooding to extreme weather events.
The discovery involves a once-poor collection of molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are produced by anything that uses oxygen, such as animals, people, and plants. But Ron Mittler at MU has uncovered a redeeming quality of ROS – their role as a communication signal that can indicate whether plants are stressed.
“When heat and drought stresses are added together, plants don’t have groundwater to drink from, so they clog up stomata. [leaf pores], and that makes the leaves really hot,” said Mittler, who has an appointment in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “That’s why the combination of drought and heat is really dangerous, because leaf temperatures are much higher than that. With only one plant subject to heat. Change can happen anywhere between two and four degrees, and that is what can make the difference between life and death.”
Plant stress is also associated with crop loss, but current analytical research on the subject has generally focused on how crops respond to just one stressor. However, Mittler said that a plant’s survival rate will drop dramatically as the number of strains continues to grow from three to six different strains. The key, he said, is to keep ROS levels under control. Either too much or too little can be harmful, but an optimal level of ROS can be considered safe for life.
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Born and raised in Israel, Mittler wanted to become a veterinarian when he grew up. But, after enrolling at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he remembers spending summers in the late 1980s as a graduate student working in an agricultural laboratory, where he got “joined” on science—specifically. The role of ROS in plants. Mittler has been studying ROS ever since.
“At the time, we were trying to identify why some cell lines were more resistant to salinity than others,” he said. “That was my first scientific research problem. But then I started working on desert plants, and from there on reactive oxygen species and blue-green algae.”
“Reactive oxygen species signaling in plant stress responses,” was published in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biologya magazine of Nature, Other authors include Sarah Zandalinas and Yosef Fitchman at MU; and Frank Van Brusgeum at 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 . – Founder (Project G0D7914N) and Excellence of Science Research (Project 30829584). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.
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