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Using membrane transporters to improve crops for sustainable food production
Monday, 2013/05/27 | 08:20:15


Julian I. Schroeder1, Emmanuel Delhaize2, Wolf B. Frommer3, Mary Lou Guerinot4, Maria J. Harrison5, Luis Herrera-Estrella6,Tomoaki Horie7, Leon V. Kochian8, Rana Munns2,9, Naoko K. Nishizawa10, Yi-Fang Tsay11& Dale Sanders12


With the global population predicted to grow by at least 25 per cent by 2050, the need for sustainable production of nutritious foods is critical for human and environmental health. Recent advances showthat specialized plantmembrane transporters can be used to enhance yields of staple crops, increase nutrient content and increase resistance to key stresses, including salinity, pathogens and aluminium toxicity, which in turn could expand available arable land.


Aluminium-tolerant crops for acid soils


Acid soils comprise 30% of Earth’s ice-free land and thus constrain agricultural production, given that only a small proportion of these soils is suitable for crops. At soil pHvalues above 5, aluminiumexists in the soil in non-toxic complexed forms. However, when soils are acidic, Al ions are freed in the soil, resulting in plant toxicity. Once in the soil solution, Al damages the root tips of susceptible plants and inhibits root growth, which impairs the uptake of water and nutrients. Natural genetic variation in Al tolerance exists withinmajor cereal crops. The efflux of organic anions from roots was discovered to be a naturally occurring tolerance mechanism of several species. Transport proteins are central to thismechanism, withmembers of two families of transport proteins responsible for exporting the organic anions from inside root cells to the external medium surrounding roots. The organic anions secreted by roots chelate Al into a non-toxic form, thus protecting the sensitive tips and allowing the roots to grow unimpeded.


60 | N ATURE | VOL 497 | 2 MAY 2 013

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