When during evolution did plants learn to conserve water? The first attempts in this regard have been discovered by an international research team with a moss. The findings also revealed how evolution affects molecules.
The first plants to venture out of the sea and onto land 500 million years ago were green algae. They had to cope with the fact that they were no longer constantly surrounded by water. This meant that they ran the serious risk of withering slowly in the event of a drought.
The moss Physcomitrella patens was a pioneer in water conservation matters during evolution.
(Photo: Pirex / Wikimedia Commons)
A later generation of terrestrial plants, mosses, resolved this problem quite cleverly: If water is in short supply, they do dry out slowly but as soon as they come into contact with water once more their photosynthesis starts up again and they continue to grow. Mosses manage to do this because they acquired a tolerance to dessication during their evolution as a land dweller.
Enzyme OST1 has a key function
Mosses, like all other plants, produce the stress hormone abscisic acid (ABA) when a water shortage occurs. This in turn boosts the production of special proteins that protect it from drying out, known as dehydrins. These ensure that the mosses survive a period of drought without any major loss of function. The production of these dehydrins is particularly reliant on, among other things, the enzyme OST1.
Even with more highly evolved plants, this enzyme ensures that excessive water loss is avoided. However, it does not just do that here via anti-dessication proteins, but using a second path as well: It activates the anion channel SLAC1 of the guard cells in the plant’s epidermis. Thereupon, the guard cells close the pores through which vital carbon dioxide flows into the plant, but through which water is also lost to the environment.
When did guard cells first appear during evolution? The first land-dwelling algae and also the relatively simple liverwort do not yet possess any. It is only with the more highly evolved mosses that guard cells appear, albeit only sparsely still: They are only located on a pinhead-like structure that the moss uses to disseminate its spores.
Results published in “Current Biology”
When during evolution did plants learn to control the production of dehydrins using the enzyme OST1? And when did they begin to use this enzyme to activate the anion channel of the guard cells? These questions have been answered by Würzburg plant biologists Dietmar Geiger and Rainer Hedrich with counterparts from Freiburg, Madrid, Riyadh, Uppsala, Kyoto, and West Lafayette. Their findings have been published in the journal “Current Biology”.
The researchers compared OST1 enzymes and SLAC1 channels from four different highly evolved plants: They examined the terrestrial alga Klebsormidium nitens, the common liverwort Marchantia polymorpha, the moss Physcomitrella patens, and the thale cress Arabidopsis thaliana as a representative of more highly evolved plants.
Structure of the anion channel proved decisive
It emerged that all OST1 variants do not differ markedly in their gene sequence and that they can all boost the production of dehydrins. Likewise, all OST1 variants can activate the anion channel of the thale cress. Yet, they failed with the channels of the alga and liverwort. The key to water conservation must therefore lie in the structure of the channel.
With the moss examined, which is younger in developmental history terms than the liverwort, the scientists discovered something unusual: It possesses two forms of anion channel, and one of them reacts already to OST1 – albeit very weakly. If the second, fully inactive channel is modified based on the model of the OST1-sensitive channels, it becomes increasingly active.
As a result, the research team has shown that even very early on during evolution OST1 had matured to such an extent that it is able to control dehydrin production. On the other hand, the channel SLAC1 did not acquire the ability to react to OST1 until moss emerged. “Evolution played with the structure of the channel and with its function until such time as it could be controlled by the existing ABA dehydrin signalling pathway and could assume the task of being a water conservation button,” says Hedrich.
Search for a further evolutionary playground
Does this mean that the question of the evolution of water conservation has been answered? Not yet, believes the Würzburg professor: “The guard cells of the mosses and of the later ferns react only weakly, if at all, to the water stress hormone ABA. We therefore need to examine yet when, on the path to becoming a highly evolved flowering plant, all the functional components of the ABA-dependent signalling pathway gathered in the guard cells. We presume that the playground for the optimization of this path lies in the transition from ferns to early flowering plants.”
Stomatal Guard Cells Co-opted an Ancient ABA-Dependent Desiccation Survival System to Regulate Stomatal Closure, Christof Lind, Ingo Dreyer, Enrique J. López-Sanjurjo, Katharina von Meyer, Kimitsune Ishizaki, Takayuki Kohchi, Daniel Lang, Yang Zhao, Ines Kreuzer, Khaled A.S. Al-Rasheid, Hans Ronne, Ralf Reski, Jian-Kang Zhu, Dietmar Geiger, and Rainer Hedrich, Current Biology, published online on March 19, 2015, http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2815%2900131-1
Prof. Dr. Rainer Hedrich, Department of Botany I (Plant Physiology and Biophysics), University of Würzburg, T +49 (0)931 31-86100, firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Emmerich | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy