Stress less! Targeting the plant cargo hub to help them deal with environmental stress


Just like an international port in a big city, every individual plant cell contains its own cargo hub that responds to their import and export needs.

If a plant cell wall needs reenforcing or expansion, the cargo hub will respond by sending new components. But what if the plant’s environment changes around it? How does the plant keep its cargo hub functioning correctly - and can we target these processes to help plant cells survive better when they encounter this stress?

In the same way we keep an office cool in the summer so people can work happily, it is essential that a plant cell maintains ideal conditions within the cargo hub during times of environmental stress to ensure it works correctly.

A project undertaken by University of Adelaide researcher Dr Daniel McKay and coordinated by Dr Stefanie Wege, both from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, has identified that a transport protein named CCC1 is responsible for regulating conditions inside the plant’s cargo hub. This transporter releases salts  out of the cargo hub, and is critical for keeping a plant cell functioning properly.

The researchers used a sophisticated cellular sensor to detect conditions within the cargo hub and found changes when the plant is exposed to salt stress. In plants which did not have CCC1 though, the conditions in the cargo hub did not adjust with the environment.

Understanding how individual cellular components such as the cargo hub help plants respond to environmental stress is key for developing new crops that can survive in harsh environments. If we understand how a plant would normally deal with stress, we can target those processes and improve them.

For example, many crops around Australia are exposed to high levels of salt in their soil. Increased salinity reduces plant growth and crop yields, and is a significant factor that primary producers must consider in their crop rotations.

What’s next?

This research has discovered an important link between cargo trafficking and salt stress responses in plants, highlighting that the cargo hub might present an opportunity to help plants survive better in saline soils.

By targeting different parts of the cargo hub like the CCC1 transporter, the team plans to improve plant tolerance of stresses like increased salinity. This may allow them to improve crop yields even when faced with unfavourable conditions, allowing us to reduce cost and feed more people across the world as our climate and environment change.

Tagged in featured, Agriculture, food and wine, Environment, sustainability and climate change