A plant scientist from the University of Missouri has discovered a new way to measure stress in plants, which occurs at a time when plants are experiencing multiple factors from stresses such as heat, drought and flooding due to extreme weather events.
The discovery involves a once-maligned collection of molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are produced by anything that uses oxygen, such as animals, people, and plants. But Ron Mittler of MU has discovered a redeeming quality of ROS – their role as a conversational signal that can tell if plants are stressed.
“When stressors from heat and drought add up, plants don’t have groundwater to draw on, so they close the stomata, and that makes the leaves very hot,” said Mittler, whose appointment is at the College of agriculture, food and natural resources. “That’s why the combination of drought and heat is really dangerous, because the leaf temperature is much higher than with a plant subjected to heat alone. The change can be between two and four degrees, and it can be the difference between life and death.”
Plant stress is also linked to crop loss , but existing analytical research on the subject has generally focused on how cultures respond to a single stressor. However, Mittler said a plant’s survival rate will drop dramatically as the number of stressors increases to three to six different stressors. The key, he said, is controlling ROS levels. Too much or too little can be harmful, but an optimal level of ROS can be considered safe for life.
Born and raised in Israel, Mittler wanted to be a veterinarian growing up. But, after enrolling at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he remembers spending a summer in the late years as a undergrad to work in an agriculture lab, where he became “addicted” to science, particularly the role of ROS in plants. Mittler has been studying ROS ever since. he declares. “It was my very first scientific research problem. But then I started working on desert plants, and from there on reactive oxygen species and blue-green algae.”
“Signaling reactive oxygen species in plant stress responses,” was published in Nature Assessments Molecular Mobile Biology, a journal of Nature. Other authors include Sara Zandalinas and Yosef Fichman at MU and Frank Van Breusegem at Ghent University in Belgium.
This study was supported by funding from the Countrywide Science Foundation (IOS-2110017, IOS-1932639, MCB-1932639 and IOS-1936590 ), the National Institutes of Overall health, the College of Missouri Interdisciplinary Plant Group, College of Missouri, Research Foundation – – Founders (project G0D7914 N) and Excellence of Science Study (project 30829584). The contents are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.