The most prevalent plant symbiosis is that between root cells and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, called AM fungi. AM fungi make sure that plants can grow on nutrient-depleted soil unnoticed by most people. These fungi outstretch their filamentary cells, called hyphae, far into the soil and are thereby able to take up more nutrients than plants can absorb with their roots. The fungus takes up mainly phosphate, but possibly also nitrate and metal ions like copper, zinc and iron and gives these willingly to the plant. In return, it is rewarded with sugars that plants produce via photosynthesis.
Interestingly, fungus and plant cell never really merge; they are constantly separated by membranes, the outer boundaries of the cells. To enable the relatively big sugar and phosphate molecules to pass through these membranes, the plant cells insert big protein complexes that resemble tunnels through which the molecules can freely travel from one cell to another. This was already known, and it was not astounding that the scientists around Franziska Krajinski found genes that encode for such transport proteins to be highly expressed in cells that are already colonised by the fungus. A more surprising discovery was, however, that even cells that are in close vicinity of the colonised cells seemed to be already reprogrammed. More than 800 genes showed enhanced activity exclusively in these cells. "The higher transcription rate of genes that are responsible for transport proteins, lipid acid metabolism and gene regulation does not seem to be a result of the colonisation by the fungus," explains Nicole Gaude, first author of the study. "It is more likely that cells are preparing themselves for an imminent colonisation by the fungus."
These very precise and specific results were obtained with the help of laser capture microdissection. In this method, a laser beam is
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