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Purdue Plant Researchers Sow Seeds for New Field of Ionomics

NEW YORK, Sept. 2 (GenomeWeb News) – A team of plant researchers at Purdue University coined the latest term in the “omics” lexicon in a paper published online Aug. 31 in the journal Nature Biotechnology .

The researchers, led by David Salt, associate professor of plant molecular physiology, introduced the concept of “ionomics” — the study of how genes regulate all the ions in a cell — in their paper, “Genomic scale profiling of nutrient and trace elements in Arabidopsis thaliana .”

The ionome, according to Salt and colleagues, is the collection of all the mineral ions that function in a cell. "All the ions in a cell play critical roles," said Salt in a statement. "Ions energize biological membranes, they play a key role in enzyme activity, they regulate the transmission of signals in the cell and the transport of materials throughout the cell. We want to understand how the cell, in turn, regulates those ions."

In the work described in the Nature Biotechnology paper, Salt and his colleagues generated random mutations in a series of Arabidopsis thaliana plants, then assessed which of those plants exhibited changes in the relative proportions of various ions in their cells.

The study focused on a group of 18 ions that play a role in plant nutrition, including the mineral nutrients zinc, copper, iron, manganese, and potassium, as well as nonessential trace elements, such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead. The research suggested that 2 percent to 4 percent of the Arabidopsis genome is dedicated to regulating the plant's ionome.

According to Salt, the team’s research on ion uptake and transport can lead to mineral-efficient plants that need little fertilizer, crops with better nutritional value for humans, and plants that may remove contamination from the soil.

The researchers next plan to identify which genes in a plant cell play a role in ion regulation.

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