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Chapter 8

Amino Acids

 
Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins in all organisms, play additional roles in plants. For example, amino acids serve as precursors to plant hormones and serve to transport nitrogen from sources to sinks. As such, the control of amino acid synthesis in plants affects many aspects of growth and development. Additionally, the synthesis of essential amino acids in plants and amino acid composition of seeds relate indirectly to animal nutrition. Thus, understanding the pathways that control amino acid synthesis in plants has significance with regard to basic research on the control of metabolic pathways as well as practical implications. Although amino acid biosynthetic pathways have been well worked out in microbes, the situation in plants is less well defined, in part because of additional unique complexities. For example, in many instances, plants have multiple isoenzymes that catalyze biosynthetic reactions. These isoenzymes may be localized in distinct organelles or distinct cell types. Defining each step in an amino acid biosynthetic pathway and determining how each step is regulated are some of the key aspects of current research in amino acid biosynthesis in plants. This chapter highlights examples in which molecular, genetic, and biochemical approaches have been combined to elucidate the steps of these pathways in plants and to understand the regulation of these pathways at the level of gene regulation and beyond. Plant mutants in amino acid biosynthetic enzymes have shown that the synthesis of amino acids in vivo affects numerous diverse processes, including photorespiration, hormone biosynthesis, and plant development. Use of transgenic approaches has revealed the feasibility of manipulating amino acid biosynthesis pathways in plants, with applications to engineering herbicide resistance, altering amino acid composition in seed, and altering resistance to photoinhibition. Thus, although they are products of primary metabolism, amino acids also control many diverse aspects of plant growth and development.

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