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Research reveals how cells protect against stress

Stress happens, and over the eons all species of living things have evolved all sorts of ways to cope. Now, new research has revealed that organisms as diverse as humans and plants share a common set of stress-protection maneuvers that are choreographed by the metabolic machinery in their cells.

The research led by Sarah M. Assmann, the Waller Professor of Plant Biology at Penn State, will be published in the 15 August 2002 issue of the journal Nature.

"We have shown, in more detail than was known before, the chain of cellular events that begins with an environmental stress and ends with an organism's protective response to that stress," Assmann says. "We also have discovered some previously unknown steps in that process."

Among the team's discoveries is that one cellular-processing step that originally was discovered in human cells also occurs in plant cells. "A human autoimmune disease and a disorder associated with breast cancer are known to result from a defect in this process, " Assmann says.

Specifically, the Assmann team studied a process triggered in plants by abscisic acid (ABA), a hormone that plants produce when they are stressed by drought. Assmann's lab discovered two years ago that the ABA hormone activates a type of protein called a kinase, which attaches phosphate groups to other proteins. The resulting cascade of events ultimately causes closure of microscopic pores on the plants' leaves in an effort to limit the loss of moisture.

In the present research, Assmann's group found that one of the targets of this ABA-activated kinase is a specific protein that binds RNA. Assmann's group further discovered that the ABA-induced phosphorylation of the RNA-binding protein caused its association with the RNA encoding dehydrin, a protein known to confer stress-resistance to plant cells.

Scientist have long known that, in both plant and animal cells, proteins designed to do particular jobs are produced
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Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
14-Aug-2002


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