If researchers can fully understand plant growth, they may be able to find a cure for cancer
To increase agricultural yields, it is important to understand how plants process light. Plants use light to decide when to grow and flower. Plants find light with the help of proteins called photoreceptors. But understanding plants has effects in areas other than agriculture. Ulla Pedmale, Assistant Professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), and his colleagues have discovered how the proteins UBP12 and UBP13 regulate the activity of a CRY2 photoreceptor. Their discovery could reveal new growth control strategies, with potential consequences far beyond agriculture.
There are CRY photoreceptors in both plants and humans. They are linked to a number of conditions, including diabetes, cancer and several brain diseases. CRY2 helps regulate the growth of both humans and plants. Uncontrolled development in plants reduces their viability, while it causes cancer in humans. “If we understand growth,” Pedmale says, “we can cure cancer.”
Plants need the right amount of CRY2 to know when to grow and flower. Pedmale and former postdoctoral fellow Louise Lindbäck discovered that manipulation of UBP12 and UBP13 can change the amount of CRY2 in plants. They found that increasing UBP12 and UBP13 decreases CRY2 levels. This led plants to believe that there was not enough light. In response, they became longer, abnormal stems to reach more. Pedmale says:
“We have a way of understanding growth here – and we can manipulate growth just by manipulating two proteins. We have found a way we can actually increase flower production. You need flower for food. If there is no flower, there is no grain. , no rice, no wheat, no corn. “
Pedmale and Lindbäck did not know exactly how UBP12 and UBP13 regulated CRY2. When the researchers looked closer, they made a surprising discovery. In humans and other organisms, versions of UBP12 and UBP13 protect CRY photoreceptors from degradation. But in plants, the team saw the opposite. UBP12 and UBP13 actually helped break down CRY2 instead. Lindbäck, who is currently a research and development engineer at Nordic Biomarker in Sweden, explains:
“From the literature, it is known that if you find an interaction like this, it will protect against deterioration. At first we saw the opposite and we thought “okay, I might have done something wrong”, but then when I did a few times we realized, “okay, this is true.” Instead of protecting CRY2, it breaks down CRY2. “
Pedmale hopes their discovery will help plant researchers and plant breeders improve their crops. He also hopes that his work will help inform cancer research. “My colleagues at CSHL work hard to try to understand cancer,” he says. “We come to it from a different angle with plants.”
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Reference: “UBP12 and UBP13 deubiquitinases destabilize the CRY2 blue light receptor to regulate Arabidopsis growth” by Louise N. Lindbäck, Yuzhao Hu, Amanda Ackermann, Oliver Artz and Ullas V. Pedmale, June 13, 2022, Current biology.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.cub.2022.05.046
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