Scientists have discovered where plants build tannins, complex chemicals used by plants for defence and protection. The source is the tannosome, a newly discovered organelle that is found in most land plants.
All living things are made from cells; whether they are single-celled organisms like amoeba, or enormous entities like Giant Redwoods (in which millions of cells make up the body of the organism). Although cells may become specialised for particular roles in an organism, they each undertake many different tasks. Internally each cell is furnished with a range of smaller bodies termed organelles that perform those various essential functions; e.g. chloroplasts in plant cells which are involved in photosynthesis, mitochondria in both animal and plant cells engaged in respiration, and ribosomes that are essential for protein synthesis. Each organelle also produces a range of chemicals for the cell. The scientists were examining the organelles in the cell, and almost overlooked some of them.
Genevive Conjro said: "When we purified for the first time the tannosomes (unknown objects at this time), we thought we had obtained chloroplasts and rejected them as rubbish artifacts. After several trials, we considered that chloroplasts were not the only green objects in plants."
The international team, headquartered at INRA in Montpellier, used a number of techniques to examine the cells in action. In some cases they fixed cells into place, in others they introduced dyes and in more samples they examined spectra, light signatures of chemicals. What they found was that these strange organelles were producing tannins. Until now, no one has known exactly where in the cell tannins have been made. People could see them stored in the vacuole, another organelle in the plant cell, but couldn't work out how they got there.
Genevive Conjro said: "Tannins, also called condensed tannins or proanthocyanidins, are thought to play diverse roles su
|Contact: Press Office|
Oxford University Press