Increasing Co2 Uptake In Plants: Insight Into Earth’s Most Important Biochemical Reaction

Suppose we were able to grow plants that could uptake even more CO2 from the atmosphere, which could solve many of the world’s problems with global warming. In order to survive for thousands of years, humans have selected, bred, and optimized plants.

Plant selection and breeding have not considered photosynthesis, the most critical and fundamental function of life on Earth, until now, when man-made greenhouse gas emissions have a serious impact on the earth. The advent of new technologies has allowed scientists to study the internal processes of plants that control photosynthesis in a way never before possible.

CURT1, a group of proteins found in leaf cells, has been found to play a much more significant role in photosynthesis than once thought, according to a new study published in the scientific journal PNAS.

According to the study’s lead author, associate professor Mathias Pribil, CURT1 proteins contribute to green leaf formation starting in the seed stage. This in turn affects how effectively photosynthesis is carried out by plants.

Proteins that kickstart photosynthesis

Prior to 1970, CURT1 proteins could only be found in fully developed leaves, where they were believed to play a more modest role. They analyzed the growth of thale cress (Arabidopsis) plants by zooming 30,000x in using state-of-the-art imaging techniques (photography and computer equipment). Molecular analysis was possible, resulting in a deeper understanding of the plants. Their studies showed that CURT1 proteins appeared as early as the earliest stages of the plant’s life.

In order for plants to survive, they need to set photosynthesis in motion right after emerging from the soil, explains Mathias Pribil. Here, we discover that CURT1 proteins coordinate processes that allow photosynthesis to take place and allow plants to survive.

Plant leaf cells, which are a kind of organ within each cell, contain chloroplasts – 0.005 mm long elliptical bodies that carry out photosynthesis. Proteins and other functions critical to photosynthesis are housed within a membrane within every chloroplast.

A plant cell’s CURT1 proteins play a key role in controlling the shape of the membrane. This means that other proteins in the cell can move around and perform important tasks regarding photosynthesis as the environment changes around the plant. Light harvesting protein complexes may need to be repaired when sunlight is intense or it may be necessary to boost a chloroplast’s ability to harvest light energy when sunlight is scarce”, explains Mathias Pribil.

Improved CO2 uptake in the future

This new discovery sheds light on Earth’s most fundamental biochemical process. It is true that humans and animals would not exist without plants. Pribil says he would be “very surprised” if CURT1 proteins were not also crucial to photosynthesis in other plants. So far, the experiment has only applied to the thale cress plant, but Pribil is confident that it will apply to other plants as well.

It is an important step towards understanding how plants control their photosynthetic processes. The question now is whether we can improve the CURT1 protein complex in plants in general to accelerate photosynthesis,” says Mathias Pribil, adding:

Mathias Pribil explains that much of his research focuses on making photosynthesis more efficient so plants can absorb more CO2. For instance, we’ve selected and bred the best crops through history, and now it’s all about helping nature become the best CO2 absorber.

Photosynthesis Facts:

  • Among the most important biological processes on Earth is photosynthesis, which is responsible for producing nearly all the oxygen that is present in our atmosphere.
  • Solar energy is used to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and organic matter, including glucose, in green plants, algae, and in some bacteria.
  • Plants and animals use glucose in this way before it is converted into nutrients. Source: Den Store Danish

CURT1 protein facts:

  • In chloroplasts, the CURT1 protein group coordinates internal structural processes that result in more efficient photosynthesis.
  • This protein group used to be believed to be present only in mature leaves, and to play a lesser role. However, researchers now know that it is critical to controlling photosynthesis.
  • Various protein groups also help plant leaves maximize or minimize their light-harvesting abilities depending on the strength of sunlight.
  • Those plants whose CURT1 protein content was out of balance — whether too much or too little — exhibited a higher mortality rate and suffered from poorer growth.

Source: Omar Sandoval-Ibáñez et al. Curvature thylakoid 1 proteins modulate prolamellar body morphology and promote organized thylakoid biogenesis in Arabidopsis thaliana. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (42): e2113934118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2113934118

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