During follow-up experiments, the researchers arranged the protein sequences from other organisms according to how closely they resembled the plant sequence, and identified two amino acid sites that are crucial for phenylalanine production.
Because the phenylalanine pathway is critical to the production of so many valuable plant products, Maeda says the study may eventually have practical benefits. "We hope this might help increase production of nutrients and medicinal compounds."
In terms of basic science, he adds, "Our study provides examples of the complex evolution of plant chemical pathways." During evolution, the need to survive and reproduce forces organisms to continue adapting to their circumstances, he notes. "Plants have had multiple opportunities to adopt different genes (and enzymes) during evolution to meet the challenges of the environment.
"The enzyme that plants adopted from the ancient bacteria was helpful to them when they acquired it, and plants ended up maintaining it, rather than other types from fungi or cyanobacteria. This enzyme and its pathway are now seen across the plant kingdom and allow plants to make such a large variety and quantity of phenolic compounds."
|Contact: Hiroshi Maeda|
University of Wisconsin-Madison