The plant ionome coming into focus

  • Williams L
  • Salt D
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Lorraine Williams' lab is focussed on membrane transport processes in plants particularly in relation to mineral nutrition. Plants require certain heavy metals such as copper, zinc and manganese as essential nutrients for growth and development. Without these metal micronutrients, deficiency symptoms arise and in crop species this can lead to losses in yield. When present in excess these, and non-essential metals such as cadmium, can become extremely toxic. Thus mechanisms must exist not only to satisfy the requirements of cellular metabolism but also to protect cells from toxic effects. Lorraine's group is investigating the role of key membrane transport proteins in heavy metal uptake, distribution and detoxification. These processes are studied in Arabidopsis using molecular, genetic and biochemical approaches. More recently this has been extended to barley where she is studying membrane transporters that function in delivering metals to the grain. A long-term goal of the lab is to identify key genes involved in heavy metal transport and to determine how these can be manipulated to enhance the nutritional quality of crops. Lorraine also has a long-standing interest in the role of membrane proteins in the developing seedling, particularly in relation to sugar and amino acid transport and also in nutrient allocation during pathogen infection. David E Salt's long-term research interest is to understand the function of the genes and gene networks that regulate the plant ionome (elemental composition), along with the evolutionary forces that shape this regulation. To achieve this, his laboratory couples high-throughput elemental profiling, with bioinformatics, genomics and genetics, biochemistry and physiology in both genetic model species (yeast, Arabidopsis thaliana and rice) and 'wild' plants that hyperaccumulate various metals (Cd, Ni and Zn), metalloids (As) and non-metals (Se) in their native habitat, including various Thlaspi, Pteris and Astragalus species. David E Salt has been involved in such work since his Ph.D. (Liverpool University, UK, 1985–1988) working on the mechanisms of copper tolerance in Mimulus gutattus (yellow monkey flower). He also has a B. Ninety-two elements have been identified on earth and 17 of these are known to be essential to all plants. The essential elements required in relatively large amounts (>0.1% of dry mass) are called macronutrients and include C, H, O, N, S, P, Ca, K and Mg. Those required in much smaller amounts (

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  • Lorraine Williams

  • David E. Salt

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