In a new study from the University of Nottingham, researchers have identified proteins that control water and nutrient uptake in plant roots. This breakthrough could reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, and may ultimately improve the resilience of agricultural crops to heat, drought, and flooding.
Casparian strips are bands of cell wall materials that form a tight barrier between the cells in plants to block the extracellular movement of water and nutrients. These strips, which play a critical role in normal plant development, are formed by the precise buildup of lignin in the space between adjacent cells.
In the current study, the experts have demonstrated that blue copper proteins called uclacyanins are essential in the biosynthesis of lignin and the formation of Casparian strips.
Developing crops with improved water and nutrient uptake efficiency could help solve the global issue of food insecurity, which is expected to become an even greater challenge as a result of climate change and population growth.
Study lead author Guilhem Reyt is a researcher in the School of Biosciences and Future Food Beacon at the University of Nottingham.
“This research is important in revealing the molecular mechanics underpinning efforts to improve mineral nutrient and water use efficiencies and enhanced stress tolerance, making crops more able to withstand flooding, drought, nutrient deficiencies and trace element toxicities,” said Reyt.
“Such improvements in agricultural and horticultural crops could also potentially benefit subsistence farmers with limited access to inorganic fertilizers which include nitrogen, phosphate and potassium and also sulphur and magnesium. This would help to reduce the cost burden such fertilizers impose and reduce the environmental and ecological damage their production and excess use causes. Improved water use efficiency and stress tolerance will also improve yields for subsistence farmers cultivating marginal lands.”
“An improved understanding of how roots acquire important trace elements and minerals should provide an important molecular mechanistic underpinning to efforts to improve food quality by helping to increase the content of essential mineral nutrients and reduce toxic trace elements in food crops.”
The study is published in the journal Current Biology.