Plant Biology Highlights: Nature Articles 2018

We are almost at the end of another year. Undoubtedly, we came across amazing research and review articles in this year. As plant biologists, we are more focused on plant-specific journals. Along with those plant-specific journals, plant-related stories are making their place into other journals too. Like previous years, this year also, I'm covering plant biology stories published in Cell, Science, and Nature all the year round. In this post, you'll find published papers from Nature.  

Dodders (Cuscuta spp.) are obligate parasitic plants that obtain water and nutrients from the stems of host plants via specialized feeding structures called haustoria. Dodder haustoria facilitate bidirectional movement of viruses, proteins and mRNAs between host and parasite, but the functional effects of these movements are not known. Here, they showed that Cuscuta campestris haustoria accumulate high levels of many novel microRNAs (miRNAs) while parasitizing Arabidopsis thaliana. Many of these miRNAs are 22 nucleotides in length. Plant miRNAs of this length are uncommon, and are associated with amplification of target silencing through secondary short interfering RNA (siRNA) production. Several A. thaliana mRNAs are targeted by 22-nucleotide C. campestris miRNAs during parasitism, resulting in mRNA cleavage, secondary siRNA production, and decreased mRNA accumulation. Hosts with mutations in two of the loci that encode target mRNAs supported significantly higher growth of C. campestris. The same miRNAs that are expressed and active when C. campestris parasitizes A. thaliana are also expressed and active when it infects Nicotiana benthamiana. Homologues of target mRNAs from many other plant species also contain the predicted target sites for the induced C. campestris miRNAs. These data show that C. campestris miRNAs act as trans-species regulators of host-gene expression, and suggest that they may act as virulence factors during parasitism. 

The cells of multicellular organisms receive extracellular signals using surface receptors. The extracellular domains (ECDs) of cell surface receptors function as interaction platforms, and as regulatory modules of receptor activation. Understanding how interactions between ECDs produce signal-competent receptor complexes is challenging because of their low biochemical tractability. In plants, the discovery of ECD interactions is complicated by the massive expansion of receptor families, which creates tremendous potential for changeover in receptor interactions. The largest of these families in Arabidopsis thaliana consists of 225 evolutionarily related leucine-rich repeat receptor kinases (LRR-RKs), which function in the sensing of microorganisms, cell expansion, stomata development and stem-cell maintenance. Although the principles that govern LRR-RK signaling activation are emerging, the systems-level organization of this family of proteins is unknown. Here, to address this, they investigated 40,000 potential ECD interactions using a sensitized high-throughput interaction assay, and produced an LRR-based cell surface interaction network (CSILRR) that consists of 567 interactions. To demonstrate the power of CSILRR for detecting biologically relevant interactions, they predicted and validated the functions of uncharacterized LRR-RKs in plant growth and immunity. In addition, we show that CSILRR operates as a unified regulatory network in which the LRR-RKs most crucial for its overall structure are required to prevent the aberrant signaling of receptors that are several network-steps away. Thus, plants have evolved LRR-RK networks to process extracellular signals into carefully balanced responses.

The genus Citrus, comprising some of the most widely cultivated fruit crops worldwide, includes an uncertain number of species. Here, they described ten natural citrus species, using genomic, phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses of 60 accessions representing diverse citrus germplasms, and propose that citrus diversified during the late Miocene epoch through a rapid southeast Asian radiation that correlates with a marked weakening of the monsoons. A second radiation enabled by migration across the Wallace line gave rise to the Australian limes in the early Pliocene epoch. Further identification and analyses of hybrids and admixed genomes provides insights into the genealogy of major commercial cultivars of citrus. Among mandarins and sweet orange, we find an extensive network of relatedness that illuminates the domestication of these groups. Widespread pummelo admixture among these mandarins and its correlation with fruit size and acidity suggests a plausible role of pummelo introgression in the selection of palatable mandarins. This work provides a new evolutionary framework for the genus Citrus

In vascular plants, the root endodermis surrounds the central vasculature as a protective sheath that is analogous to the polarized epithelium in animals, and contains ring-shaped Casparian strips that restrict diffusion. After an initial lag phase, individual endodermal cells suberize in an apparently random fashion to produce ‘patchy’ suberization that eventually generates a zone of continuous suberin deposition. Casparian strips and suberin lamellae affect paracellular and transcellular transport, respectively. Most angiosperms maintain some isolated cells in an unsuberized state as so-called ‘passage cells’, which have previously been suggested to enable uptake across an otherwise-impermeable endodermal barrier. Here, they demonstrated that these passage cells are late emanations of a meristematic patterning process that reads out the underlying non-radial symmetry of the vasculature. This process is mediated by the non-cell-autonomous repression of cytokinin signalling in the root meristem, and leads to distinct phloem- and xylem-pole-associated endodermal cells. The latter cells can resist abscisic acid-dependent suberization to produce passage cells. Their data further demonstrate that, during meristematic patterning, xylem-pole-associated endodermal cells can dynamically alter passage-cell numbers in response to nutrient status, and that passage cells express transporters and locally affect the expression of transporters in adjacent cortical cells. 

Mammalian peptide hormones propagate extracellular stimuli from sensing tissues to appropriate targets to achieve optimal growth maintenance. In land plants, root-to-shoot signaling is important to prevent water loss by transpiration and to adapt to water-deficient conditions. The phytohormone abscisic acid has a role in the regulation of stomatal movement to prevent water loss. However, no mobile signaling molecules have yet been identified that can trigger abscisic acid accumulation in leaves. Here, they showed that the CLAVATA3/EMBRYO-SURROUNDING REGION-RELATED 25 (CLE25) peptide transmits water-deficiency signals through vascular tissues in Arabidopsis, and affects abscisic acid biosynthesis and stomatal control of transpiration in association with BARELY ANY MERISTEM (BAM) receptors in leaves. The CLE25 gene is expressed in vascular tissues and enhanced in roots in response to dehydration stress. The root-derived CLE25 peptide moves from the roots to the leaves, where it induces stomatal closure by modulating abscisic acid accumulation and thereby enhances resistance to dehydration stress. BAM receptors are required for the CLE25 peptide-induced dehydration stress response in leaves, and the CLE25–BAM module therefore probably functions as one of the signaling molecules for long-distance signaling in the dehydration response. 

Triticum urartu (diploid, AA) is the progenitor of the A subgenome of tetraploid (Triticum turgidum, AABB) and hexaploid (Triticum aestivum, AABBDD) wheat. Genomic studies of T. urartu have been useful for investigating the structure, function and evolution of polyploid wheat genomes. Here, they reported the generation of a high-quality genome sequence of T. urartu by combining bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC)-by-BAC sequencing, single molecule real-time whole-genome shotgun sequencing, linked reads and optical mapping. They assembled seven chromosome-scale pseudomolecules and identified protein-coding genes, and we suggest a model for the evolution of T. urartu chromosomes. Comparative analyses with genomes of other grasses showed gene loss and amplification in the numbers of transposable elements in the T. urartu genome. Population genomics analysis of 147 T. urartu accessions from across the Fertile Crescent showed clustering of three groups, with differences in altitude and biostress, such as powdery mildew disease. The T. urartu genome assembly provides a valuable resource for studying genetic variation in wheat and related grasses, and promises to facilitate the discovery of genes that could be useful for wheat improvement. 

Auxin influences plant development through several distinct concentration-dependent effects. In the Arabidopsis root tip, polar auxin transport by PIN-FORMED (PIN) proteins creates a local auxin accumulation that is required for the maintenance of the stem-cell niche. Proximally, stem-cell daughter cells divide repeatedly before they eventually differentiate. This developmental gradient is accompanied by a gradual decrease in auxin levels as cells divide, and subsequently by a gradual increase as the cells differentiate. However, the timing of differentiation is not uniform across cell files. For instance, developing protophloem sieve elements (PPSEs) differentiate as neighbouring cells still divide. Here, they showed that PPSE differentiation involves local steepening of the post-meristematic auxin gradient. BREVIS RADIX (BRX) and PROTEIN KINASE ASSOCIATED WITH BRX (PAX) are interacting plasma-membrane-associated, polarly localized proteins that co-localize with PIN proteins at the rootward end of developing PPSEs. Both brx and pax mutants display impaired PPSE differentiation. Similar to other AGC-family kinases, PAX activates PIN-mediated auxin efflux, whereas BRX strongly dampens this stimulation. Efficient BRX plasma-membrane localization depends on PAX, but auxin negatively regulates BRX plasma-membrane association and promotes PAX activity. Thus, their data support a model in which BRX and PAX are elements of a molecular rheostat that modulates auxin flux through developing PPSEs, thereby timing PPSE differentiation.

Enhancing global food security by increasing the productivity of green revolution varieties of cereals risks increasing the collateral environmental damage produced by inorganic nitrogen fertilizers. Improvements in the efficiency of nitrogen use of crops are therefore essential; however, they require an in-depth understanding of the co-regulatory mechanisms that integrate growth, nitrogen assimilation and carbon fixation. Here, they showed that the balanced opposing activities and physical interactions of the rice GROWTH-REGULATING FACTOR 4 (GRF4) transcription factor and the growth inhibitor DELLA confer homeostatic co-regulation of growth and the metabolism of carbon and nitrogen. GRF4 promotes and integrates nitrogen assimilation, carbon fixation and growth, whereas DELLA inhibits these processes. As a consequence, the accumulation of DELLA that is characteristic of green revolution varieties confers not only yield-enhancing dwarfism, but also reduces the efficiency of nitrogen use. However, the nitrogen-use efficiency of green revolution varieties and grain yield are increased by tipping the GRF4–DELLA balance towards increased GRF4 abundance. Modulation of plant growth and metabolic co-regulation thus enables novel breeding strategies for future sustainable food security and a new green revolution.

Multicellular organisms use cell-surface receptor kinases to sense and process extracellular signals. Many plant receptor kinases are activated by the formation of ligand-induced complexes with shape-complementary co-receptors. The best-characterized co-receptor is BRASSINOSTEROID INSENSITIVE 1-ASSOCIATED KINASE 1 (BAK1), which associates with numerous leucine-rich repeat receptor kinases (LRR-RKs) to control immunity, growth and development. Here, they reported key regulatory events that control the function of BAK1 and, more generally, LRR-RKs. Through a combination of phosphoproteomics and targeted mutagenesis, they identified conserved phosphosites that are required for the immune function of BAK1 in Arabidopsis thaliana. Notably, these phosphosites are not required for BAK1-dependent brassinosteroid-regulated growth. In addition to revealing a critical role for the phosphorylation of the BAK1 C-terminal tail, they identified a conserved tyrosine phosphosite that may be required for the function of the majority of Arabidopsis LRR-RKs, and which separates them into two distinct functional classes based on the presence or absence of this tyrosine. Their results suggest a phosphocode-based dichotomy of BAK1 function in plant signaling, and provide insights into receptor kinase activation that have broad implications for our understanding of how plants respond to their changing environment. 

Nitrogen is an essential macronutrient for plant growth and basic metabolic processes. The application of nitrogen-containing fertilizer increases yield, which has been a substantial factor in the green revolution. Ecologically, however, excessive application of fertilizer has disastrous effects such as eutrophication. A better understanding of how plants regulate nitrogen metabolism is critical to increase plant yield and reduce fertilizer overuse. Here, they presented a transcriptional regulatory network and twenty-one transcription factors that regulate the architecture of root and shoot systems in response to changes in nitrogen availability. Genetic perturbation of a subset of these transcription factors revealed coordinate transcriptional regulation of enzymes involved in nitrogen metabolism. Transcriptional regulators in the network are transcriptionally modified by feedback via genetic perturbation of nitrogen metabolism. The network, genes and gene-regulatory modules identified here will prove critical to increasing agricultural productivity. 


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Plant Biology Highlights: Nature Articles 2019