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Chapter 23

Molecular Physiology
of Mineral Nutrient
Acquisition, Transport,
and Utilization

CHAPTER OUTLINE
Introduction
23.1 Overview of essential mineral elements
23.2 Mechanisms and regulation of plant K + transport
23.3 Phosphorus nutrition and transport
23.4 The molecular physiology of micronutrient acquisition
23.5 Plant responses to mineral toxicity

Leon V. Kochian

 

 

The importance of mineral nutrients to crop production has been recognized for more than 2000 years. Plant mineral nutrition is unique because green plants, the only multicellular autotrophic organisms, can mine inorganic elements from the environment without having to rely on high-energy compounds synthesized by other organisms Earlier this century, classical physiological research into the processes involved in mineral nutrient acquisition was a major research focus in the field of plant biology. Recently, there has been a great upsurge in research and a renewed interest in the field of plant mineral nutrition now that contemporary experimental approaches in membrane biophysics, molecular biology, and plant physiology are being used to dissect the mechanisms underlying transport and utilization of mineral ion nutrients. We currently are witnessing an exciting period of research into plant mineral ion transport. Many new molecular approaches have allowed the cloning of families of mineral ion transporters, and microelectrode technologies have allowed us to study the functions of these individual transporters, both when expressed in heterologous systems and when studied in planta. The challenge now at hand is to fit these individual pieces back together to begin to understand the molecular physiology of the intact plant, in terms of the mechanisms and regulation of mineral nutrient acquisition and utilization.
      This chapter focuses on recent findings concerning the molecular physiology of macronutrient and micronutrient transport as well as the strategies plants use to tolerate stressful soil environments such as toxic concentrations of metals in the soil. Emphasis will be on those essential mineral elements, such as potassium (K) and iron (Fe), for which researchers are beginning to understand the molecular mechanisms of plant acquisition and transport. Recent experimental and technological advances that have enabled researchers to clone the genes encoding mineral ion transporters will also be described.
      Many topics related to mineral nutrition have been addressed in other chapters of this text. Plant uptake and assimilation of nitrogen and sulfur, for example, are discussed in Chapters 8 and 16, respectively. Anabolic and catabolic reactions involving the most abundant mineral nutrients—carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen—appear throughout the text and constitute the primary focus of Chapters 12 through 14. Long-distance transport of selected mineral nutrients is discussed in Chapter 15.


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