Many plant processes are not different from humans: cells and tissues in grain plants, including maize also communicate through electrical signals. The shape and frequency of these signals tell a plant different things. For example, these signals allow the plants to respond to heat and cold, excessive light intensities or insect pests. If, for instance, a caterpillar starts to nibble on the leaves of a wild plant, an electrical signal is sent to the leaves that haven't been harmed yet, triggering a response mechanism: bitter agents or toxic substances are subsequently produced throughout the plant, causing the caterpillar to stop eating or killing it after a while. But the ability to produce bitter substances has been bred out of modern crops for reasons of taste. Therefore, chemical pesticides are sprayed on field crops to rid them of caterpillar pests. Researchers from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, have now shed new light on plant communication via electrical signals. The scientists found that the two-pore calcum channel protein 1 (TPC1) ion channel contributes to plant excitability. The function of this channel had been previously unknown. This discovery may pave the way to breed plants that are more resistant to pests, heat or drought in the long run - properties that are crucial in the face of climate change. The JMU scientists, led by biophysicist Professor Rainer Hedrich, PhD, published their findings online on June 14, 2019 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Voltage-Dependent Gating of SV Channel TPC1 Confers Vacuole Excitability.” It was Dr. Hedrich who had discovered the TPC1 ion channel in the mid-1980s, when he was a postdoc with Nobel Laureate Erwin Neher in Göttingen.
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