Scientists Discovered Molecular Structures Involved In Plant Respiration

All living organisms respire, releasing energy from food.

At cellular levels, the process happens inside the mitochondria.

However, there are some differences at the molecular level between how plants and animals release energy from consuming food.

Analyzing those differences might help revolutionize agriculture.

The Study

Maria Maldonado, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of James Letts, assistant professor at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology of the College of Biological Sciences, said:

“Plant respiration is a crucial process biologically for growth, for biomass accumulation.”

“If you’re thinking of crops, the extent to which they grow is related to biomass accumulation and the interplay between photosynthesis and respiration,” she added.

In a study posted in eLife, Maldonado, Letts, and their colleagues revealed the first-ever, atomic-level, 3D structure of the most prominent protein complex (complex I) involved in the mitochondrial electron transport chain of plants.

Maldonado said that, for mammals and yeast, there are higher resolution structures of the entire electron transport chain and supercomplexes available. She spoke of how, until recently, it was all “an entire black box for plants.”

Further analyzing the structure and functionality of these plant protein complexes might help design better pesticides and improve agriculture.

Letts stated:

“Lots of pesticides actually target the mitochondrial electron transport chain complexes of the pest.”

“So, by understanding the structures of the plant’s complexes, we can also design better-targeted pesticides or fungicides that will kill the fungus but not the plant and not the human who eats the plant,” he added.

Plants depend on chloroplasts to photosynthesize practical matter.

However, chloroplasts are tricky in the study of the molecular minutiae of the mitochondrial electron transport chain.