Our bodies produce some amino acids. But there are 9 ‘essential amino acids’ that we and other animals can’t make. We get these through foods, such as meats, dairy, and ultimately plants.
The new study suggests the target of rapamycin (TOR) protein is a major roadblock. The work is published in eLife.
Plants unsure if they’re ‘hungry’
“TOR protein is a master regulator of metabolism in plant cells,” says Pengfei Cao, post-doc in the lab of Federica Brandizzi. “It detects variables, like nutrient availability, energy levels, growth cues, and so on. TOR protein uses this information to control cell growth and metabolism functions.”
In reality, nutrient availability might not be adequate.
Overactive TOR distorts plant cells
Such an overactive TOR, might change the structure of the cell, to the detriment of a plant’s health.
Here is an example. One of TOR’s functions is to tinker with little cellular filaments, called actin.
“But the cell shapes are abnormal. For example, the root cells fail to fully form root hairs so that they can absorb water.”
In other words, the result is an unhappy plant that develops at a slower pace.
On a last note, Pengfei thinks the interdisciplinary nature of the work allowed for the breakthrough. “We work with plant cell structures. Our collaborators from the lab or Robert Last study biochemical pathways. If we had worked on this project separately, we wouldn’t have the expertise to examine where the defects crop up.”
– Igor Houwat and Layne Cameron via MSU Today