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Octopus reveals secrets of plant cell walls

29 August 2019 - Scientists working at STFC’s Central Laser Facility (CLF) have found that the cell walls of plants play a more important role in regulating plant proteins than previously thought and this new research has the potential to lead to more disease resistant crops.

By using high resolution microscopy methods, including those available at the Octopus imaging cluster at CLF in Oxfordshire, cell biologists at Oxford Brookes University were able to investigate the interaction between proteins and cell walls in plants.

The research, led by Dr Joseph McKenna from Oxford Brookes found that cell walls control a surprising number of plant functions via proteins within the cell.

One of these proteins moves hormones between cells, helping determine how the plant will grow. Another lets plants respond to external threats, for example by detecting the presence of damaging micro-organisms, such as viruses, and activating the plant’s innate immune system.

Dr Dan Rolfe, Lead Data Scientist at Octopus said: “This is a great example of how multidisciplinary research is needed to address key challenges for humanity. A combination of advanced microscopy and analysis techniques originally translated from astronomy and applied to gain insights into human cancers has been applied in this plant research. And it has revealed a new understanding of plant biology which has important implications for food security.”

In the future, the research team aims to investigate how the properties of cell walls could be adjusted to alter how the proteins function, giving crops greater protection against pathogens and creating hardier plants.

Dr Joe McKenna, Light Microscopy Specialist at Oxford Brookes Department of Biological and Medical Sciences, said: “The investment in state-of-the-art microscopy systems at Oxford Brookes allows us to see structures in a way which we wouldn’t have believed possible 10 years ago. This combined with the extreme resolving power available at the Central Laser Facility allows us to monitor the movement of individual molecules, the machines of life, within the cell membrane.”

This research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences here.

The Octopus imaging cluster uses multicolour light sources to combine multiple beams, colours and timings. It is used to investigate major challenges in the life sciences.

Last updated: 09 September 2019

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