October 13, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Plants Have Thermostats

Plants, being stuck in the ground, have few options when it gets hot.  They may not be able to move into the shade like animals, but they know how to cope.  They have a built-in thermostat that acts like a fire prevention department.  Science Daily tells the story.
    Researchers at Michigan State identified a protein named bZIP28 that lives in the cell around the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a bundle of tubes and tunnels that acts like a protein assembly, storage and distribution center.  This little protein acts something like a firehouse dog on a leash, tied to the walls of the ER.  When the temperature reaches a certain point, the leash is cut, and the dog runs off into the nucleus, where he barks, so to speak, and sets off a chain reaction.  “The bZIP28 protein is anchored in the endoplasmic reticulum, away from its place of action,” an MSU biochemist said.  “But when the plant is stressed by heat, one end of bZIP28 is cut off and moves into the nucleus of the cell where it can turn on other genes to control the heat response.”
    Researchers found that cells without the firehouse dog died when the temperature rose above a certain level.  Another researcher on the team remarked, “We’re finding that heat tolerance is a more complex process than was first thought.”

Science makes progress when researchers leave the shrine of Darwin and examine the details of plants and animals with design in mind.  Now that we are beginning to unravel the complexities of just one subsystem of plants, the heat response, we might be able to engineer it to allow desirable plants to grow in arid climates for the good of the people.  This is how science should be done.
    On a somewhat related note, Science News printed a feature story about growing farms in the city.  Why not?  Rooftops and special greenhouse skyscrapers could turn jungles of steel into generators of fresh air, flowers and food.  Hydroponics allows growing many plants in water without soil.  Imagine getting fresh tomatoes from the building next door instead of a thousand miles away.  Even barges and abandoned buildings could be put to use, while farmland can get a Sabbath rest or be returned to its native forest ecology.  Upward farming: once the engineering and cost challenges are worked out, this could become a sensible green trend to help humans and their plant friends co-exist.

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Categories: Amazing Facts, Genetics

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