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Protein 'handshakes' vital to plant survival

NSF Award:

The Membrane-based Protein Interactome  (Carnegie Institution of Washington)

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Bound to live at their birthplace and unable to move away, plants are the world's best miners for nutrients. They are also exceptionally versatile in adapting to changes. When reacting to environmental changes, sophisticated regulatory networks that emanate from pores and signal receptors at the surface of their cells ensure survival. Most of this network communication relies on handshakes, the transfer of information between cellular machinery. In these cases, proteins or receptors in the cell membrane communicate with proteins inside the cell to achieve a needed action such as closing a nutrient pore.

In this NSF-funded project, scientists in the labs of Carnegie Institution researchers Sue Rhee and Wolf Frommer catalogued these vital handshakes. Because so little is known about which proteins communicate with each other, this project provides an initial overview of protein interactions at the interface between a plant cell and its environment.

A systematic study of communication is critical because there are thousands of transporters and receptors in the plant membrane and thousands of regulatory proteins that transmit signals or regulate transport, as well as many proteins with still unknown functions. This first interactome provides a rich resource for new discoveries. An improved understanding of plants will impact cultivation of more robust plants that can better withstand stresses such as drought, and will help advance medicine. Although plants and humans are physically different, humans share about half of all genes (about 20,000 to 30,000) with plants. Thus, the plant database could allow medical researchers to search for patterns and specific interactions for those proteins that are shared between plants and humans.

The MIND database includes over 5 million protein combinations and identifies more than 25,000 interaction pairs.


  • interactions between plant proteins provide a rich resource for new discoveries
A membrane-based protein interactome is a rich resource for new discoveries.
Wolf Frommer

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