Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress as it is commonly known, made history back in 2000 by becoming the first plant to have its entire genetic code read by scientists, contributing to what is often referred to as biology’s version of the book of life. Today, the ‘microscopes’ scientists have access to allow them to zoom down much further into the structure of the proteins that are made by the genes, so taking the book of life and making sense of the tiny letters on the pages.
Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, makes this detailed structural biology possible. In an unusual combination, state-of-the-art experimental facilities and thale cress, a humble weed, are at the centre of research that sheds light on how plants behave when they are under attack from disease-producing pathogens. The study also represents the 1000th new protein structure to be solved using the intense X-rays at Diamond.
Professor Giles Oldroyd of the John Innes Centre explains how plant roots form beneficial interactions with soil microbes. Almost all plants associate with mycorrhizal fungi to help in the uptake of nutrients such as phosphate. Some plants, particularly legumes, also associate with bacteria that ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plant can use as fertiliser.
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