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Switch for Alternative Plant Photosynthesis Pathway Discovered

Switch for Alternative Plant Photosynthesis Pathway Discovered

23 April 2015

US - A switch has been identified for an alternative pathway of energy flow in photosynthesis, which helps to balance plant metabolic needs, according to new research.

Photosynthesis is the process that plants use to capture energy from the sun and convert it to chemical energy, and scientists all over the world are trying to optimise this process to grow more food for the expanding human population.

The study showed that hydrogen peroxide, a substance produced by stressed-out plants, signals for the activation of an alternative photosynthetic pathway called cyclic electron flow, or CEF.

In order to balance the energy budgets of the plant cell, alternative pathways like CEF must be turned on and off in a highly regulated way.

The study lead author Deserah Strand said that CEF is a highly researched, but still poorly understood route of electron transfer in plants. 

She said that understanding the regulation of such processes is important because as humans change plants to meet our growing needs, photosynthesis will need to adjust.

"Simply increasing solar energy flow into the plant without balancing it to match metabolism would be counterproductive or even deadly to the cell," Ms Strand said.

"The energy must be finely regulated and balanced."

The identification of this switch may aid in the development of plants with improved efficiency and resilience to environmental stresses, which could help ease global demand for food and fuel as climate changes.

Co-author Professor David Kramer said: "Increasing plant productivity is difficult, partly because photosynthesis is inherently dangerous as it involves some of the most-reactive chemical substances in biology.

"We knew that CEF was an important process in photosynthesis, particularly under environmental stresses like drought, cold or heat, but we did not know how it was regulated.

"Now we have a handle on one of the important triggers."

Further Reading

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