A plant with a deep understanding of its environment could save millions of lives

A tree with a unique understanding of the plant’s environment could have a life-saving impact on the planet, a new study suggests. 

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, and the U.S. Department of Energy have identified a gene that encodes the enzyme that creates the green fluorescent protein, or green fluorescence.

Green fluorescence, which is a marker for photosynthesis, is crucial to plants’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, as well as to photosynthesize oxygen.

Green fluorescent proteins are abundant in the environment, but researchers have not known if they are encoded by the same genes that code for the gene responsible for the enzyme. 

“We’re still trying to understand exactly how the genes encode the enzyme and how they’re expressed,” said lead author Dr. Peter J. Biederman, an assistant professor of plant sciences.

“But we’re pretty confident that it’s the same gene.”

Biedeman and his colleagues found that a gene called S6K3 encodes a gene encoding the enzyme in the sapling’s root, and that this gene was present in all saplings in the study.

This was the first time the team had found that the S6I2 gene encodes S6E1, which was a marker of photosynthesis. 

The researchers then identified the genes that encode the S5K2 and S6D2 genes, which are essential for photosynthetic processes.

These genes were also present in saplings from different parts of the tree, but Biedermans team found that they were also expressed in the same saplings. 

It is thought that the genes responsible for green fluorescent proteins were originally encoded by different genes in different plant families, and were later modified to encode the enzymes involved in photosynthesis in plants of different genera. 

While it is still unclear how the different genes encode S6A, the scientists are hoping that this will lead to a more precise identification of the genes. 

Dr. David C. Shum, an evolutionary biologist at the UC Riverside, said the finding of the green fluorescing gene in a tree was a major milestone in the field.

“This gene has now been identified in a variety of different tree species in different parts [of the world],” Shum told The Verge.

“We now have a more specific gene that we can target in the genome, so we can see what happens in the cell to make this gene.” 

Biederman said it is not yet clear how this gene is encoded, but that it is likely to have a role in photosynthesis.

“The green fluensing protein is an enzyme that is involved in plant photosynthesis,” Biedemers team explained in a press release.

“It’s a good candidate because of its ability to use a lot of energy and to be able to sequester a lot [of] carbon dioxide.” 

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.