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Date: Sep 14, 2021

How plants sense phosphate Researchers at the University of Bonn and the IPK in Gatersleben identify previously unknown mechanisms in phosphate sensing

A new study by the University of Bonn and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben sheds light on the mechanism used by plants to monitor how much of the nutrient phosphate is available, and to decide when strategies to mobilize and take up more phosphate from the soil must be activated. The enzyme ITPK1 plays a key role in this process. The researchers were also able to show that a particular group of signaling molecules involved in phosphate sensing respond very sensitively to phosphate and that this regulation takes place not only in plants but also in human cells. In the long term, the results could lead to the breeding of new crop varieties that require less phosphate fertilizer. The final version of the study has now been published in the journal "Molecular Plant".


Ackerschmal-Wand (Arabidopsis thaliana)

Ackerschmal-Wand (Arabidopsis thaliana) - eine der Pflanzenarten, bei denen die Forschenden den neuen Mechanismus feststellten. (© Foto: Gabriel Schaaf / Uni Bonn)


Phosphate is an essential mineral element for all living organisms. At the same time, phosphate resources on Earth suitable for fertilizer production are limited and non-renewable – estimations indicate that phosphate deposits may be depleted in the next 300 years. Another issue that may come to someone’s mind when talking about phosphate is that phosphate used in agriculture can contaminate aquatic ecosystems such as rivers, lakes and oceans. The reason: increased levels of nutrients like phosphate in waters, known as eutrophication, can result in excessive algal growth and eventually result in the depletion of oxygen in these ecosystems.

Therefore, reducing phosphate inputs in agriculture (without negatively impacting yields) would have two advantages: phosphate reserves could last longer and less phosphate would end up in lakes and oceans. To achieve this, researchers are working on strategies to make crops more phosphate-efficient. This means, plants that can more efficiently mobilize, take up, and, if necessary, recycle phosphate. [...]

On the way to sustainable crop production

"The results of this and previous studies have far-reaching consequences for our understanding of how organisms sense phosphate deficiency and how physiological responses are generated depending on the energy status," says Prof. Dr. Gabriel Schaaf from INRES at the University of Bonn. "Our work provides new breeding targets and opens avenues on how new breeding methods, such as genome editing, might be used to increase phosphate use efficiency and thereby contribute to a more environmentally friendly and resource-saving crop production."

Gabriel Schaaf is a member of the Excellence Cluster "PhenoRob - Robotics and Phenotyping for Sustainable Crop Production" and the transdisciplinary research area "Innovation and Technology for a Sustainable Future "at the University of Bonn. [...]


... full press release: | 14.09.2021


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