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Chemicals cut from crops if plant protein patch works

Researchers are looking to reduce chemical applications and instead gain plant resistance and growth improvements through their Casparian strips (CSs). These strips are in the cell walls of vascular plants. It’s this barrier that plays a critical role in controlling the volume of nutrients and water necessary for normal plant development

With growers locked into expensive chemicals to control weeds, any news that an alternative could be available always provokes a strong hip pocket response.

Such is the case in point for researchers who have discovered how a protein in plant roots controls the uptake of minerals and water.

It’s a breakthrough that is expected to improve the tolerance of agricultural crops to climate change and reduce the need for chemical fertilisers.

The research, conducted by the School of Biosciences and Future Food Beacon at the University of Nottingham in the UK, shows that members of the blue copper proteins family, the Uclacyanins are vital in the formation of Casparian strips.

These strips are essential structures that control mineral nutrient and water use efficiencies by forming tight seals between cells in plants, blocking nutrients and water leaking between.

This is the first evidence showing the implications of this family in the biosynthesis of lignin, one of the most abundant organic polymers on earth.

This study reveals that the molecular machinery required for Casparian strip lignin deposition is highly ordered by forming nano-domains which can have a huge impact on plant nutrition.

A finding that could help in the development of crops that are efficient in taking in the nutrients they need.

Food security represents a pressing global issue as Crop production must double by 2050 to keep pace with global population growth.

This target is even more challenging given the impact of climate change on water availability and the drive to reduce fertilizer inputs to make agriculture become more environmentally sustainable.

In both cases, developing crops with improved water and nutrient uptake efficiency would provide a solution and this.

Guilhem Reyt from the School of Biosciences and Future Food Beacon at the University of Nottingham has led this research project, he says: “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.” he concluded.

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 element 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.

It appears researchers have determined that breeding tougher plants will also lower the current level of chemical cover and that is part of this current research.

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