Discovery on how sugars are moved throughout a plant

An image of the localization of the identified protein in the molecular pump in the vascalature of a plant leaf. (Credit: Image courtesy of Carnegie Institution)

Food prices are soaring at the same time as Earth’s population is nearing 9 billion. As a result the need for increased crop yields is extremely important. New research led by Carnegie’s Wolf Frommer into the system by which sugars are moved throughout a plant — from the leaves to the harvested portions and elsewhere — could be crucial for addressing this problem. Their work is published December 8 by Science Express.

Just as it’s necessary for the human body to move nutrients to all of the organs, it is vital for green plants to transport sugars to supply its various parts. In humans, this is the circulatory system’s job. But plants do not have a heart-like pump to move these vital energy sources. Instead, plants use a molecular pump.

Twenty years ago, the Frommer team identified one of the key components of this molecular pump, which actively loads a sugar called sucrose into the plant’s veins, a tissue called phloem. But how the sucrose produced in the leaves via photosynthesis is delivered to the transporters that move it into the phloem has remained a mystery. Thus, a critical piece of the molecular pump was unknown–the protein that moves the sucrose to the inside of the plant’s leaf cell walls. In this new research they have identified the missing piece of the molecular pump system.

“Like engineers, we can now fine tune the pump components to address one of the major challenges for our future — namely, to increase the translocation of sugars towards seeds in order to increase crop yield,” Frommer said “The identification of these critical transporters is a major step towards developing strategies to ensure food supplies and keep food prices in check.”

Edited from Discovery on how sugars are moved throughout a plant.

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