Experiments Identify Important New Role of Chemical Compounds in Plant Development

Experiments Identify Important New Role of Chemical Compounds in Plant Development

At Purdue University, Clint Chapple is a distinguished professor specializing in biochemistry. In his laboratory, he conducts experiments to delve into the molecular biology and biochemistry of plants. A photo captured by Tom Campbell showcases him at work.

Experiments Identify Important New Role of Chemical Compounds in Plant Development - Figure 1
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Scientists studying lignin, the molecule that enables plants to grow tall and transport water, have made a surprising discovery about the impact of its synthesis on plant development. The findings suggest that lignin has wider-reaching effects than previously believed.

Clint Chapple, a Biochemistry Distinguished Professor at Purdue University, shared that his team has been researching how much plants can be altered, particularly in the area of the lignin biosynthetic pathway. He stated that lignin is the simplest plant body component to modify and it also has significant consequences as it is removed during the pulp and paper process.

Lignin has an impact on the standard of animal fodder and the plant biomass utilized for the generation of biofuels. According to Chapple, there have been some noteworthy achievements in this regard. However, they have come across some occurrences for which they don't have any explanation.

The group led by Chapple modified the way in which the chemical building blocks that fuel the process of creating lignin in Arabidopsis thaliana, a commonly studied type of plant, are formed through genetic engineering.

Chapple remembered a time when they tried combining two successful strategies, but instead of seeing a positive result, their plants ended up being very short. This left them feeling confused and unsure of what went wrong.

Experts put forward four primary concepts to clarify this occurrence. "It wasn't clear which one, or which ones, were accurate," declared Fabiola Muro-Villanueva, who acquired her biochemistry doctorate at Purdue in 2020.

Muro-Villanueva worked hard to gain knowledge, investing many years in experimenting with different plant-based chemicals on a countless number of plants to witness their effects. She eventually discovered a solution to promoting plant growth through a specific component known as pinoresinol. Alongside co-authors from Purdue and other institutions, Muro-Villanueva published her research in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Muro-Villanueva, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow in molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, stated that the substance appears to be a growth compound that resembles hormones.

During the initial phases of the study, Muro-Villanueva noticed alterations in the generation of lateral roots and root hairs of the plants. These alterations are crucial for a well-functioning root system and effective absorption of water.

"These factors related to the growth of plants do not have a significant connection with lignin," as stated by Chapple.

The scientists included a substance known as coniferyl alcohol, which plays a crucial role in the creation of lignin, to the plants. As a result, root hairs were able to grow normally and in a larger size, rather than appearing stunted and distorted.

Chapple remarked that it was a surprising discovery. It appears that these compounds in plants have a purpose that we had not previously understood.

So far, botanists had a common belief that pinoresinol has no other purpose than being a part of the lignin. However, recent findings suggest that it might serve a more significant role than just that. The exact mechanism is yet to be determined, but the evidence implies that there is a more comprehensive story behind it, according to Muro-Villanueva.

The discoveries provide fresh perspectives on the extensive range of abilities possessed by plants.

According to Chapple, plants are skilled in the field of chemistry. They produce numerous distinct compounds that are fascinating. They create hundreds of thousands of compounds as a group. However, each plant typically specializes in particular compounds that are associated with their species.

According to him, plants have multiple roles to play. They enable the plant to fight against ultraviolet light, acting essentially like a natural sunscreen. This is not all, they also help in warding off bacteria and insects. From a human point of view, these compounds contribute to making our food delicious and fragrant, and some of them even possess healing properties.

Chapple stated that this is simple research. However, if we want to progress biofuels by controlling plants for better processes, it's crucial to fully comprehend the functions of these pathways and chemicals in plant growth.

If not, he is concerned that scientists may introduce a fresh strain into the agricultural sector only for it to underperform due to their limited knowledge of pivotal biosynthesis pathways and their capabilities.

Chapple expressed the importance of gaining further insight on how plants recognize and react to such substances. He also questioned how the lack of these substances causes stunting and changes in the growth of roots.

The research was backed by C3Bio, which is an Energy Frontier Research Center that is financed by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy for the direct catalytic conversion of biomass to biofuels.

The latest news from the Agriculture department at Purdue University.

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