UCSD researchers decipher molecular "code" capable of controlling plant water loss during droughts

e smarter than we thought they were," says Gethyn J. Allen, a UCSD biologist and the first author of the research paper. "They can tune in to appropriate stimuli and tune out inappropriate stimuli. The guard cells can read the oscillations and modify their behavior. If the calcium oscillations are either too fast or too slow, the guard cells can sense that and the stomata will open up again."

Plant scientists have for more than a decade suspected that calcium oscillations might play a role in the opening and closing of stomata. The UCSD scientists were able to prove this was the case and crack the calcium code by conducting a series of experiments on a normal and a mutant form of the common laboratory plant, Arabidopsis.

The researchers showed that elevated calcium concentrations in the guard cells of normal plants produced short-term closures of the stomata for less than an hour. But long-term closuresmore than three hourswere evident only when the oscillation of calcium reached a specific frequency. Studying a mutant provided by Erwin Grill at the Technical University of Munich, that is insensitive to a hormone, ABA, secreted by plants under drought-stress conditions, the scientists received further confirmation of the calcium-oscillation frequency required for long-term closures of stomata.

One effect of the mutants insensitivity to the drought-stress hormone is that it produces rapid calcium oscillations, far too rapid to stimulate the guard cells to close. But by experimentally slowing down the calcium oscillations in the mutant to the same frequency at which normal Arabidopsis close their stomata for long periods, Allen, Schroeder and their colleagues were able to demonstrate that the mutants stomata could also be closed for long periods.

"Scientists have speculated for years that there may be a code imbedded in the calcium signals and what weve done, essentially, is to crack this calcium code," says Schroeder, whose colleagues in

Contact: Kim A. McDonald
University of California - San Diego

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