Researchers uncover potential climate change-nutrition connection in plant metabolism

Michigan State University researchers uncover potential climate change-nutrition link in plant metabolism

Michigan State University researchers may have found a link between climate change and plant nutrition. Credit: Hermann Schachner (plant cells) via Wikimedia Commons / Mike Erskine (arid soil) via Unsplash

A new study by researchers at Michigan State University highlights that we still have a lot to learn about how plants will function and how nutritious they will be as more carbon enters our atmosphere.

The same carbon flow helps drive climate change, so this new study published in the journal Science Nature Plantsit may be revealing that this global phenomenon is reshaping nature and our lives in an unexpected way.

“What we’re seeing is a link between climate change and nutrition,” said Berkley Walker, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Biology whose research team wrote the new report. “This was something we didn’t know we were going to investigate when we started.”

Although high carbon dioxide levels can be good for photosynthesis, Walker and his lab also showed that CO2 increased.2 levels can interact with other metabolic processes in plants. And these lesser-known processes may have implications for other functions, such as protein production.

“Plants like CO2. “The more you give them, the more food they make and they grow,” said Walker, who works at the College of Natural Science and the MSU-Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory. a larger plant with a lower protein content? It will actually be less nutritious.”

It’s too soon to say definitively whether plants face a low-protein future, Walker said. But the new research raises puzzling questions about how plants can produce and metabolize amino acids, the building blocks of protein, with more carbon dioxide around.

The report’s first author and postdoctoral researcher Xinyu Fu said the harder we work to address these questions right now, the more prepared we will be to face the future.

“The more we know about how plants use different metabolic pathways in fluctuating environments, the better we can find ways to manipulate metabolic flow and ultimately design plants to be more efficient and nutritious,” Fu said. Said.

If plants are not successful at first, photorespiration happens.

The basics of photosynthesis are pretty simple: Plants take in water and carbon dioxide from their environment and turn these components into sugar and oxygen, powered by sunlight.

But sometimes this process starts with a wrong step. The enzyme responsible for collecting carbon dioxide can instead capture oxygen molecules.

This produces a byproduct that, if left unchecked, will essentially suffocate the plant, Walker said. Fortunately, plants have developed a process called photorespiration, which removes harmful byproducts and allows the enzyme to make another release in photosynthesis.

Photorespiration is not as famous as photosynthesis and is sometimes notorious for taking carbon and energy that can be used to make food. While inefficient, photorespiration is better than the alternative.

“It’s kind of like recycling,” Walker said. “It would be great if we didn’t need it, but as long as we generate waste, we can use it.”

To do its job, photorespiration incorporates carbon into other molecules or metabolites, some of which are amino acids, which are precursors of proteins.

“So photorespiration can be upcycling, not just recycling,” Walker said.

There’s a reason Walker used “could” instead of “dir” in his statement. Photorespiration still holds some mysteries, including the fate of its metabolites.

metabolic spying

When it comes to where amino acids produced by photorespiration end, an established theory was that they stay in a closed loop. This means that the metabolites made in the process are restricted to a selected set of organelles and biochemical processes.

Now, MSU researchers have shown that this is not always the case. In particular, they showed that the amino acids glycine and serine were able to escape the confines of this closed loop.

What will ultimately happen to the compounds is a longstanding question that may become increasingly important as carbon dioxide levels rise.

Plants show less photorespiration when more carbon dioxide is available, so scientists need to delve deeper into how plants in general produce and use these amino acids, Walker said.

But for now, he and his team are excited to reach this finding, which is no trivial achievement. It involved feeding the plants with a special type of carbon dioxide, in which the carbon atoms have one more neutron than the carbon typically found in the atmosphere.

A neutron is a subatomic particle and therefore has a very small mass. If you take a paper clip and break it into a trillion pieces, and break one of those pieces into a trillion more, the smallest pieces will have roughly the same mass as a neutron.

But the MSU collaboration had the tools and expertise to measure this subtle difference in mass. These measurements, combined with computational modeling, allowed the researchers to track this light-fleshed carbon and see how plants integrate it at different metabolic stages when conditions favor photorespiration.

“This new technique has provided a better and more quantitative understanding of important metabolic pathways in plants,” Fu said. Said. “With the new flow approach, we began to uncover the dynamic state of metabolic pathways and to understand metabolism as a whole system.”

“I said my lab could do this on my job application, but I wasn’t entirely sure it would work,” said Walker, who joined MSU in 2018. , which also includes graduate student Luke Gregory and research assistant Sean Weise.

But other colleagues at MSU were also helpful, including University Distinguished Professor Thomas Sharkey, Professor Yair Shachar-Hill, and the Mass Spectrometry and Metabolomics Core team.

“Coming to MSU uniquely enabled that to happen,” Walker said.

More information:
Xinyu Fu et al, Integrated flux and pool size analysis in plant center metabolism reveal unique roles of glycine and serine during photorespiration, Nature Plants (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41477-022-01294-9

Provided by Michigan State University

Quotation: Researchers investigate potential climate change-nutrition link in plant metabolism (2022, 22 Dec) retrieved from on Dec. 23, 2022 revealed.

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