The ubiquitous cell membrane proteins called aquaporins are now firmly established as channel proteins that control the specific transport of water molecules across cell membranes in all living organisms. The aquaporins are thus likely to be of fundamental significance to all facets of plant growth and development affected by plant-water relations. A majority of plant aquaporins have been found to share essential structural features with the human aquaporin and exhibit water-transporting ability in various functional assays, and some have been shown experimentally to be of critical importance to plant survival. Furthermore, substantial evidence is now available from a number of plant species that shows differential gene expression of aquaporins in response to abiotic stresses such as salinity, drought, or cold and clearly establishes the aquaporins as major players in the response of plants to conditions that affect water availability. This review summarizes the function and regulation of these genes to develop a greater understanding of the response of plants to water insufficiency, and particularly, to identify tolerant genotypes of major crop species including wheat and rice and plants that are important in agroforestry.
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