Wain Medal Lecture 2018
"Coming up for air: how plants sense and respond to floods"
Dr Emily Flashman
Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford
Wednesday 10th October, 17:00 Woolf Lecture Theatre, free and open to all
O2-dependent enzymes underpin plant responses to flooding
Plants are subjected to a wide range of environmental and biological stresses. These include flooding, a problem which is increasing with the advent of climate change. Flooding is a major cause of crop damage across the globe, often with devastating socio-economic consequences. Coupled with a rapidly increasing population, it is clear that finding ways to make plants more flood-tolerant is a major challenge in the effort to sustain food security. As biochemists, we can help address this challenge by understanding how plants respond at the molecular level to being flooded. We can then try to manipulate these responses to help plants survive for longer when they become submerged.
The molecular response to flooding has recently been uncovered and found to be dependent on oxygen availability, something which decreases when plants are submerged. In low oxygen conditions, a signalling pathway is activated which directs a plant to turn on flood-survival mechanisms. The plant must be able to sense how much oxygen is present so that it knows when to turn this signalling pathway on or off. It does this with dedicated oxygen-sensing enzymes, called Plant Cysteine Oxidases.
In the Lecture, I will discuss how plants regulate these flood-survival responses and how our lab has uncovered the key role of the Plant Cysteine Oxidases. I will talk about the potential for improving flood tolerance by manipulating these responses and I will present my group’s recent structural and functional work which aims to find ways to genetically modify the Plant Cysteine Oxidases as a way to achieve this.