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New Research Shows 3D Structures of a Plant's Respiratory System

New insight into a plant's respiratory system, responsible for creating it's energy, has been discovered according to which just recently published these findings in an article called Atomic Structures of Respiratory Complex III2, Complex IV, and Supercomplex III2-IV from Vascular Plants. Research done by the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at University of California Davis in California, has discovered the complex structures of atomic proteins that make up the respiratory system of a plant.

Like many other living creatures, plants use their respiratory system to garner energy. While other organisms' complex respiratory systems have been well studied, the underlying structures of plant's system has been challenging to view, until now.

Plants first use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into sugar, and then use their respiratory system to change the sugar into energy. This happens with the help of mitochondria, the part of the cell that helps turn food into energy, which is involved with five protein assemblies in the plant's respiratory system, creating an electron train to create energy.

Scientists did not know what a plant's respiratory system atomic structure actually looked like until this study, which uncovered three of the five protein assemblies involved. Using mung beans, they extracted mitochondria complexes, washed them with a mild detergent and stabilized them, then used cryo-electron microscopy to reveal their highly detailed 3D structures. The three newly revealed atomic structures are called complex III, complex IV and supercomplex III-IV. Based on the knowledge of these structures, the scientists then created models to test interactions with other molecules, find additional subunits, test binding ability and test the structural flexibility of the assemblies.

"Understanding how plant respiratory complexes work could lead to improvements in crop yields or, since respiration is required for survival, result in the development of herbicides that block respiration in plants more effectively and specifically. Further researching the structure of the plant respiratory complexes and supercomplexes could also shed light on how plants adapt to different environments, including how they change to survive global warming."

Their research also showed that there are shared aspects of respiratory structures between plants, mammals, bacteria, and fungi that previously were thought to exist only in plants. They also found some of the structures were actually unique to plants. This is important because many herbicides and pesticides used in agriculture are made to interfere with the respiratory system of pests and this could help make them more effective and less harmful to crops.

"Our work provides high-resolution structures of plant respiratory complexes that reveal plant-specific features, allowing for the development of more selective inhibitors as herbicides and pesticides," concludes senior author James Letts, Assistant Professor at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, UC Davis, US. "Further comparative analyses of these structures with the growing number of respiratory complexes will allow us to understand the fundamental principles of respiration across the tree of life."


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