I. Plant nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture
II. Phosphorus: an Essential Plant Nutrient
III. An Environmentally Friendly Phosphorus Fertilization System
Part I: Plant nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture
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As the world’s population grows, it is becoming more and more important to optimize food production while minimizing the environmental impact of agriculture. In his first talk, Herrera-Estrella explains that crop plants need sunlight, CO2, water, and as many as 50 inorganic nutrients for maximal food production. Two of the most important nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorous. Herrera-Estrella describes the critical role that soil microbes have in facilitating nutrient uptake and he explains that a better understanding of plant nutrition will result in more sustainable agricultural practices.
The second lecture focuses on the role of phosphorous in plant nutrition. Orthophosphate (Pi) is the only form of phosphorus that plants can readily absorb but because of its poor solubility and mobility it is often a limiting nutrient. Herrera-Estrella tells us about the numerous strategies that plants have developed to cope with Pi deprivation. These include the regulation of genes involved in the breakdown of phospholipids and dramatic modification of root architecture to allow more efficient uptake of Pi.
In his third talk, Herrera-Estrella describes the development of transgenic plants that can use phosphite, rather than phosphate, as a source of phosphorous. The bacteria P. stutzeriwas known to oxidize phosphite into phosphate. By introducing P. stutzeri genes into maize, members of Herrera-Estrella’s lab were able to engineer maize that can utilize phosphite. Phosphite as a fertilizer has a number of advantages; it is more efficiently taken up by plants, weeds cannot metabolize it so transgenic crops can outcompete weeds reducing the use of herbicides, and finally algae cannot utilize phosphite so runoff does not contribute to toxic algae blooms. This is a great example of a GMO with the potential to have a positive environmental impact.
Luis Herrera-Estrella is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Senior International Research Scholar and Chief of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (Cinvestav), Irapuato, Mexico. Herrera-Estrella studied biochemical engineering as an undergraduate student and received his MSc in genetics and molecular biology from Cinvestav. He completed his PhD in plant molecular biology from the State University of Ghent, Belgium where he also conducted postdoctoral research.
Herrera-Estrella’s lab researches how plants adapt to grow in conditions of low phosphorous availability. They have identified genes involved in changing root architecture, one of the responses to low soil phosphorous. In addition, his lab has engineered plants that can metabolize phosphite, rather than phosphate; this has the potential for major environmental and economic impacts, as discussed in his iBioSeminar.
Herrera-Estrella has made important contributions to the field of plant molecular biology, particularly the development of methods for gene transfer and regulation. His many contributions have been recognized with numerous awards including the 2002 National Science Prize from the Government of Mexico, the 2007 Trieste Science Prize and the 2008 American Society of Plant Biologists Leadership in Science Public Service Award. Herrera-Estrella is an elected member of the Latin American Academy of Sciences, the Mexican Academy of Sciences, the Third World Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
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López-Arredondo DL, Leyva-González MA, González-Morales SI, López-Bucio J, Herrera-Estrella L. (2014) Phosphate nutrition: improving low-phosphate tolerance in crops. Annu Rev Plant Biol.65:95-123. Review. PMID:24579991
López-Arredondo DL, Herrera-Estrella L. (2012) Engineering phosphorus metabolism in plants to produce a dual fertilization and weed control system. Nat Biotechnol. 30(9): 889-93. PMID:22922674
Pérez Torres CA, López Bucio J, Herrera Estrella L. (2009) Low phosphate signaling induces changes in cell cycle gene expression by increasing auxin sensitivity in the Arabidopsis root system. Plant Signal Behav. 4(8):781-3. PMID:19820337
Pérez-Torres CA, López-Bucio J, Cruz-Ramírez A, Ibarra-Laclette E, Dharmasiri S, Estelle M, Herrera-Estrella L. (2008) Phosphate availability alters lateral root development in Arabidopsis by modulating auxin sensitivity via a mechanism involving the TIR1 auxin receptor. Plant Cell. 20(12):3258-72. PMID:19106375
Sánchez-Calderón L, López-Bucio J, Chacón-López A, Cruz-Ramírez A, Nieto-Jacobo F, Dubrovsky JG, Herrera-Estrella L. (2005) Phosphate starvation induces a determinate developmental program in the roots of Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Cell Physiol. 46(1):174-84. PMID:15659445