An international group of experts led by the University of Copenhagen discovered how to regulate zinc in plants. This breakthrough could help pave the way to alleviating malnutrition worldwide.
Zinc is one of the essential micronutrients for plants and animals because of its vital functions in many proteins. Zinc deficiency affects approximately 2 billion people worldwide, mostly those who are on plant-based diets relying on crops from soils lacking in zinc. Thus, the researchers searched for ways to increase zinc absorption of plants using the model plant, thale cress (Arabidopsis).
They identified two proteins (bZIP19 and bZIP23) from thale cress that work as zinc sensors and analyzed the plant’s ability to absorb and transport zinc throughout the plant tissues. Then they modified the properties of the sensors which served as molecular switches, controlling a tightly connected network of zinc transporters. With the small change in the properties, the plant behaves as if it is in a constant state of zinc deficiency, and thus the zinc uptake system remains turned on. This led them to successfully modifying thale cress to absorb more zinc by up to 50 percent compared to a normal plant.
The team is currently reproducing the results in bean, rice, and tomato plants. They also plan to apply CRISPR to replicate the positive results.
Lilay et al. (2021) Arabidopsis bZIP19 and bZIP23 act as zinc sensors to control plant zinc status. Nature Plants 7: 137–143
Source: Crop Biotech Update