Follow that Carbon: Metabolic Fluxes in an Illuminated Arabidopsis Rosette

Researchers affiliated to TiMet have been tracking the metabolic fate of carbon in plant leaves, and have published their findings in the journal Plant Cell

Plants and other photosynthetic organisms use light energy to capture carbon from carbon dioxide (CO2)in the air, ultimately converting it into the bulk of the world’s food, fibre and biofuel.

The scientists used a specially prepared air mixture containing 13CO2, and supplied this to leaves of Arabidopsis thaliana (Thale Cress) in a sealed growth chamber.  The 13C version of carbon in the CO2 has a slightly different mass than normal carbon (12C), and this change of mass could be detected in the many of biochemical compounds that the 13CO2 is turned into during photosynthesis.

On a timescale of seconds to minutes, the carbon supplied from the 13CO2 was sequentially incorporated into several clusters of compounds, associated with the biochemical pathways responsible for generating reserves of sugars, carbohydrates, proteins and other functional and structural components. This sequence of carbon incorporation, as well as its spatial location in different cellular compartments, is of great importance in ensuring successful growth and survival of the plant.

Knowing exactly what happens to photosynthetic carbon – where it goes first, where it ends up, and how fast – has future implications for the improvement of crop yield and ultimately the redirection of carbon to high value natural products.

Szecowka M, Heise R, Tohge T, Nunes-Nesi A, Vosloh D, Huege J, Feil R, Lunn J, Nikolski Z, Stitt M, Fernie AR, Arrivault S.

Plant Cell. 2013 Feb 26. [Epub ahead of print]