New knowledge about our Earth’s most important biochemical reaction: A step towards increasing CO2 uptake in plants

Jay Owen Earth Systems Science, Nature/Biomimicry

Source: University of Copenhagen – Faculty of Science

Imagine being able to grow plants that could absorb even more CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere and thereby help solve the world’s climate problems. Humans have selected, bred and optimized plants to increase food production and ensure for our survival for thousands of years.

But the most important and fundamental function of life on Earth — photosynthesis — has not been relevant with regards to plant selection or breeding until now, an age when greenhouse gas emissions from human activities threaten our planet. With new technologies at hand, scientists around the world are now working to understand the internal processes of plants that drive photosynthesis.

In a new study published in the scientific journal PNAS, researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences have just discovered that a group of proteins in plant leaf cells, called CURT1, plays a much more important role in photosynthesis than once thought.

“We have discovered that CURT1 proteins control a plant’s development of green leaves already from the seed stage. Thus, the proteins have a major influence on how effectively photosynthesis is established,” explains Associate Professor Mathias Pribil, the study’s lead author.

Proteins that kickstart photosynthesis

CURT1 proteins were previously believed to play a more modest role and only be present in fully-developed leaves. But using state-of-the-art Imaging techniques (photography and computer equipment), the researchers zoomed 30,000x in on the growth of a series of experimental thale cress (Arabidopsis) plants. This allowed them to study the plants at a molecular level. The researchers could see that CURT1 proteins were present from the earliest stages of their plants’ lives.

“Emerging from the soil is a critical moment for the plant, as it is struck by sunlight and rapidly needs to get photosynthesis going to survive. Here we can see that CURT1 proteins coordinate processes that set photosynthesis in motion and allow the plant to survive, something we didn’t know before,” explains Mathias Pribil.

Photosynthesis takes place in chloroplasts, 0.005 mm long elliptical bodies in plant cells that are a kind of organ within the cells of a plant leaf. Within each chloroplast, a membrane harbours proteins and the other functions that make photosynthesis possible. Continue reading