Project Outcomes

NSF MCB0816627. “Mechanosensitive Channels and Organelle Morphology.”

We often think of plants as static, unmoving and unfeeling. In fact, plants are constantly sensing and responding to incoming information about their environment, though their responses may not be easily observed. One type of information to which plants must respond is mechanical force—such as gravity, touch, or tension. We are interested in a class of proteins, called mechanosensitive channels, which serve to sense and respond to mechanical force. Though these mechanosensitive channels were first characterized in bacteria, they are also found in plants and some fungi. The research supported by this award was designed to study how two mechanosensitive channels function in the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant. The results of our experiments gave us a number of new insights into how mechanical forces are sensed and perceived by plants, by their cells, and by the organelles inside their cells. In particular, we learned how the molecular machines that control the division and propagation of chloroplasts (the organelles inside plant cells that conduct photosynthesis) are affected by mechanical force, and how organelles deal with mechanical force from inside the cell. We also learned about the evolutionary relationship between the strategies used by bacteria and by plants to respond to similar environmental challenges.