Protein folding & plants breathing

Just as plants take in the CO2 required for photosynthesis, they also release gas on a daily basis. Researchers have long wondered how pores in the leaf epidermis control this gas exchange. Now, a team of researchers at Columbia University has provided a first glimpse of an ion channel, called SLAC1, that helps open and close those pores (Nature 2010, 467, 1074). Its X-ray structure, which boasts a never-before-seen protein fold, may one day be useful for breeding or engineering plants that can better survive in arid environments.

“Every single carbon molecule in our bodies, our food, or our furniture has at one time gone through a plant’s pores—so has a significant portion of the water in our atmosphere,” comments Jaakko Kangasjärvi, a plant physiologist at the University of Helsinki, in Finland, whose group initially identified SLAC1. This ion channel controls passage through those pores, as well as plants’ response to drought conditions, changing CO2 levels, or even pathogen attacks, Kangasjärvi adds. “This structure will really help the plant biology community,” he says.

Rest at C&EN

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