May 22, 2009

Waxy substance key to plant health

Manipulating a natural waxy substance found in plants allows for easier absorption of beneficial nutrients, a Purdue University scientist in Indiana said.

Botanists have long believed the substance suberin acted as a barrier for the movement of water in plants.

David Salt, a plant molecular physiologist, confirmed the theory by testing a mutant form of the plant Arabidopis, which has twice as much suberin as other varieties of that plant, Purdue said in a release Friday.

It's been known for a long time that this material exists in the cell, but there's been no genetic proof to show what it does, Salt said. We now have another tool in our toolbox to manipulate how plants take up water and mineral nutrients.

Salt manipulated the mutant Arabidopis, activating a defense mechanism in which the plant used suberin to restrict evaporation of water from its leaves. The suberin acted as a filter, blocking some water from passing through cell walls,

Just like animals, plants want to select the things they take in, Salt said.