DURHAM, N.C. -- A team of researchers from Duke University and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has found a central part in the machinery that turns plants green when they sense light.
In the Rube Goldberg world of cellular mechanics, this key player turns out to be a garbage truck.
Light is so essential for plants that they have two different systems to take advantage of it, explains Meng Chen, an assistant professor of biology at Duke.
There's the familiar system of organelles called chloroplasts that turn sunlight into fuel via photosynthesis. The photosynthetic pigment inside chloroplasts, chlorophyll, is where the green color comes from.
And then there's a system of light-sensitive proteins called photoreceptors that use light as information and direct plant development and growth. One of the things the plant does with that information is control how it makes chloroplasts. "The greening process is completely dependent on the presence of light. However, how light triggers the making of chloroplasts is still unknown," Chen said.
In a paper appearing in the June 25 issue of Cell, Chen and his team have identified a key intermediary between the light system for information and the light system that makes fuel. The hope is that this knowledge will help researchers use a plant's own photo-sensory systems to increase agricultural yields or improve the photosynthesis of biofuel crops.
"Light is probably the most important environmental cue for a plant," said co-author Joanne Chory, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "Understanding how light signaling triggers morphological changes in the plant will have a really big impact on every facet of plant biology."
Plants have an array of photoreceptors that are tuned to different wavelengths of light. One type, called phytochromes, are sensitive to red and far-red light and play a major
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