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Key link in how plants adapt to climate discovered by Stanford researchers
Date:11/25/2008

How many mouths does a plant need in order to survive? The answer changes depending on climate, and some of the decisions are made long before a new leaf sprouts.

Stanford researchers have found that the formation of microscopic pores called stomata (derived from the Greek word stoma, meaning mouth) is controlled by a specific signaling pathway that blocks activity of a single protein required for stomata development. The findings are described in a paper published Nov. 14 in Science.

Stomata are found on almost every terrestrial plant on Earth. Their multiple roles include releasing moisture and oxygen into the environment, providing internal air conditioning for the plant and allowing carbon dioxide to enter the leaf, where it is converted to sugar during photosynthesis. Stomata are essential for the survival of plants and, by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, play a significant role in maintaining the health of the planet.

Using Arabidopsis thaliana, a fast-growing, flowering plant used for genetic and developmental studies, Dominique Bergmann, an assistant professor of biology, and paper co-authors Gregory Lampard, a postdoctoral fellow, and Cora MacAlister, a PhD student, found a unique structural region on a protein with 10 sites that can be modified by a well-known, environmentally-controlled signaling pathway to dictate the number of stomata a plant makes.

"Scientists have said that the environment affects plant development, but no one could point to a protein that was responsible for that response," Bergmann said. "Now we know a major target inside the cell and how it is regulated."

Knowing how this process works could be used to modify crops in order to maximize their productivity under changing climate conditions. Plants might initially benefit as a result of the increased carbon supply in the atmosphere due to global warming, Bergmann said, but would also respond to those conditions by making f
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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