Plant Cell Biology

Why plants?

All living things are made of cells, and the molecular building blocks of cells are much the same for plants, animals and bacteria. So what is special about plants?

Both animal and plant cells contain distinct compartments: the nucleus; the cytosol; and the mitochondrion. The plant cell has a fourth compartment: the chloroplast. Here light energy is absorbed by chlorophyll and stored in the photochemical reactions of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process that converts sunlight to the chemical energy - food and oxygen - upon which all life depends. Plants stand still, and when the environment changes, a plant cannot run away to find a new one. Plants therefore show great versatility in the way their cells adapt to changing environments.

The light-harvesting chlorophyll molecules of photosynthesis itself are bound to proteins that are modified by phosphorylation. This phosphorylation reaction allows the plant cell to balance the rate of energy conversion in photosynthesis with the capacity of the cell to use it. Phosphorylation of proteins also occurs when genes are switched on or off in response to an altered environment. The chloroplast, like the mitochondrion, evolved from a free-living bacterium, and has retained a small outpost of genes, perhaps to encode those of its protein components which are especially dangerous if made in the wrong environment. The plant cell is nature's most complex genetic system, with three sets of genes. It is therefore an ideal subject to test general ideas about the control and coordination of gene function.

Lund has long been well-known internationally for research on plant cell and chloroplast membranes. Plant Cell Biology is a young section. The chair in Plant Cell Biology was established by the faculty on the retirement of Professor Anders Kylin from a personal chair in Plant Physiology. The intention was to support plant research and teaching, with molecular biology in the foreground, as in all areas of modern biology. Thus Plant Cell Biology in Lund has a unique opportunity to work together with the many excellent sections representing complementary interests and subject areas. Its central problems at the outset concern the structural basis of control of protein function and gene expression. As a hybrid subject it is essential that Plant Cell Biology should look outwards in this way, using the plant cell as a highly detailed model to test ideas of fundamental biological importance.

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