Breakthrough in blocking water transport in plants and humans

Monday, 28 October 2002

A breakthrough by plant physiologists in the University of Adelaide's Department of Horticulture, Viticulture and Oenology could pave the way to the treatment of various human ailments as well as applications in agriculture.

The discovery has identified compounds that block water flow through specialised proteins call aquaporins which are responsible for most water transport in plants and humans. One compound is the major component of Silverdine cream, a preferred burns medication, yet it was not known that silverdine may work by blocking water transport.

While researching water and nutrient flow in plants, Dr Christa Niemietz and the Chair of Viticultural Science at the University's Waite Campus, Professor Steve Tyerman, found that silver and gold compounds were up to 200 times more effective than currently known blockers.

"Our plant research had recently identified a new class of aquaporin blockers, inhibitors that can effectively halt the transfer of water across plant and human membranes," Professor Tyerman said. "The compound silversulfadiazine was found to be effective with water transfer in human red cells and in plant roots and is likely to block water transport at other sites."

"It is thought that Silverdine cream works in burns treatment because it inhibits microbial growth," said Professor Tyerman. "This is critical for the treatment of burns. However, the almost total blocking of water transfer across membranes may be another component to the cream's effectiveness," he said.

Professor Tyerman's team believes the use of these and other related compounds may be considered as treatment for other ailments in humans related to water movement including swelling of tissues as occurs in head trauma. The compounds also have significant potential in agricultural science.

The University of Adelaide has a preliminary patent on the applications of these compounds.


Contact Details

Professor Steve Tyerman
ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology
School of Agriculture, Food & Wine
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6663
Mobile: 0411 776 050