Drought, heat, cold, pathogens – Plants have a lot to do each year

Every day, we stand in front of our closets and chose what to wear. Is it cold or warm? Rainy or sunny? For us, it is rather simple to adapt to different environmental conditions. We just put on a warm jacket, if it gets colder. In comparison to us, plants have to find other solutions if the weather changes – they have to adapt their metabolism. Dr. Martin Groth and Dr. Christian Lindermayr from the Institute of Biochemical Plant Pathology of the Helmholtz Zentrum München discuss in a review article published recently in Molecular Metabolism whether metabolic and epigenetic mechanisms go hand in hand to contribute to stress responses and acclimation in plants.

@Institute of Biochemical Plant Pathology

Through their whole live, plants have to cope with changing environments. Many of them are unfavorable or even stressful, reducing their growth and development. These adverse environmental conditions include biotic stress, such as pathogen infection and herbivore attack, and abiotic stress, such as drought, nutrient deficiency, and excess of salt or toxic metals in the soil. Nowadays, with the consequences of climate change, the situation becomes more and more critical. Heat and drought, as in the summer of 2019, heavily reduce the productivity of agricultural crops. While animals, including us humans, can escape from inconvenient conditions, plants are sessile and have to adapt their “life style”. In order to survive different environmental conditions, plants have adopted certain systemic changes, known as acclimation and priming, which include developmental and physiological alterations controlled on different levels. It is well documented that environmental changes can cause changes in DNA methylation and other chromatin features of the epigenome in plants. Yet, there is very little understanding if these changes are a cause or consequence of altered cellular activities, including metabolism, during stress responses. In the review article, Dr. Martin Groth and Dr. Christian Lindermayr take a comprehensive look into the interplay of epigenetic regulation and plant metabolism. The authors use the lessons learned from mammals to discuss whether the mechanisms that link metabolism to epigenetic regulation are relevant for the environmental adaptation of plants. Since redox-signaling is known to play a key role in plant stress response, the authors consider the possibility that reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide are important for modulating metabolic and epigenetic pathways during environmental cues, too.

Altogether, the review of Dr. Groth and Dr. Lindermayr highlights the importance of identifying the environmental impact on epigenetics in living organisms, especially in plants. From the health, agricultural, and ecological perspective, there is a great potential for epigenetics to improve crop production as a measure towards healthy nutrition and global food security for future generation.

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