European Mistletoe is a plant surrounded by a number of myths. At Christmas, people hang it up to meet for a kiss under it according to a legend, these couples stay together for a lifetime. Comic fans know the plant as the main ingredient of the magic potion of Asterix & Obelix. In its natural environment, Mistletoe is an evergreen parasite, extracting water and nutrients from its tree host.
Now, a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and at the John Innes Center discovered that the mistletoe’s parasitic lifestyle has led the species to a drastic evolutionary loss of key cell components which are involved in the energy production of the plant.
Plant parasites are provided with nutrients and water by its host, all necessary requirements to keep fit and healthy. Dr. Etienne Meyer and his colleagues of the MPI-MP are fascinated by this life style. “Parasites are clever”, he says. “They get most of what they need from their host and it seems that they can waive cell functions which are needed in all other organisms.”
For the European Mistletoe (Viscum album) they showed a loss of function to produce energy. Usually, energy is produced in form of the chemical molecule ATP in the mitochondria. “Those organelles are considered as the powerhouse of the cell as they perform respiration to produce ATP”, Etienne Meyer explains.
“In our study, we found out that mitochondria in mistletoe is remodeled. It is missing an enzyme called Complex I, which is essential for aerobic respiration in animals and plants.” Instead, mistletoe uses alternative energy pathways, including glycolysis, which generates energy in a different part of the cell but is less efficient.
The research team was surprised to realize the complete loss of Complex I. Earlier studies suggested that mistletoe had lost genes responsible for producing Complex I. But it wasn’t proof that mistletoe lacked the complex altogether. There was a possibility that these genes had been transferred from mitochondria into the nuclear genome.
So far, it was thought that this piece of metabolic machinery is essential for all multicellular organisms. The researchers were stunned to discover the first case of a multicellular eukaryote that lost most of its respiratory capacity. Until now, such a transformation has only been reported in unicellular organisms that either are parasites or involved in a symbiotic relationship.
But what is the reason for such a structural change in the plant organelles and reducing the effectiveness of an established energy producing system? Maybe the adaptation to a parasitic lifestyle, resulting in a supply of nutrients by the host, could save the plant the energy, which is required to assemble the mitochondrial complexes.
Next to answer this question, future work of Etienne Meyers team and his cooperation partners will investigate the mitochondria of other parasitic species to determine if the reduction of respiratory capacity is specific to mistletoe or if it is a consequence of parasitism. Moreover, the knowledge may assist in the fight against damaging crop parasites such as witchweed (Striga asiatica L.) that affects maize yield.
Dr. Etienne Meyer
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology
Tel. 0331/567 8318
Dr. Ulrike Glaubitz
Press and public relations
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology
Tel. 0331/567 8275
Andrew E. Maclean, Alexander P. Hertle, Joanna Ligas, Ralph Bock, Janneke Balk, Etienne H. Meyer,
Absence of Complex I Is Associated with Diminished Respiratory Chain Function in European Mistletoe
Current Biology, 3.5.2018, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.03.036
Dr. Ulrike Glaubitz | Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie
Bacteria use their enemy -- phage -- for 'self-recognition'
23.04.2019 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters
Scientists propose new theory on Alzheimer's, amyloid connection
23.04.2019 | Florida Atlantic University
Researchers led by Francesca Ferlaino from the University of Innsbruck and the Austrian Academy of Sciences report in Physical Review X on the observation of supersolid behavior in dipolar quantum gases of erbium and dysprosium. In the dysprosium gas these properties are unprecedentedly long-lived. This sets the stage for future investigations into the nature of this exotic phase of matter.
Supersolidity is a paradoxical state where the matter is both crystallized and superfluid. Predicted 50 years ago, such a counter-intuitive phase, featuring...
A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter
A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.
Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...
The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks
Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...
Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.
Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...
17.04.2019 | Event News
15.04.2019 | Event News
09.04.2019 | Event News
23.04.2019 | Life Sciences
23.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences