Soil salinity is one of the biggest stressors on plant growth and can limit the productivity of crops. Globally, this poses a problem as it reduces the yield of our fields which affects the stability of our food system, leading to shortages and wastage. With food crises evident across the globe, salinity is a problem that must be addressed to avoid monumental problems in future.
Although salinity and its effects on plants is a widely researched topic, there is much that we do not know. For example, aquaporins are widely known to function as channels in plant membranes that help mediate and regulate root uptake of water and other small molecules. However, it was recently discovered that aquaporins may also be involved in the movement of ions in plants.
Intrigued by this discovery, one of our PhD students, Samantha McGaughey, has recently published a paper that looks closely at the regulation of root aquaporin function in response to changes in salinity. Her findings indicate that in the presence of salt, some aquaporins – the plasma membrane intrinsic protein (PIP) family in particular – had altered regulation.
She found that PIPs that possessed ion channel functions can transport Na+, which highlights a possible route by which Na+ enters plant roots in saline conditions. Therefore, the regulation of aquaporins in response to salt could suggest a need to modify the roles of PIPs to influence their ion channel function. Further application of Samantha’s research could lead to the development of mechanisms to change plant PIP Na+ transport to adapt to the osmotic and ionic stress caused by an increase in salinity.
Her paper has been published in The Annual Plant Reviews, issue 2.