Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Built-In Sunblock Shields Plants from Harmful Radiation

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Built-In Sunblock Shields Plants from Harmful Radiation

Article excerpt

On a bright, sunny day, it's good to be a plant. No sunblock? No problem.

Plants, which rely so vitally on sunlight, actually protect themselves from the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that beat down on them. And University of Geneva (UNIGE) researchers have provided new insight into that mechanism.

In a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers identified a network of photoreceptors and enzymes that work in tandem to create a biochemical defense from radiation.

For most plant life, sunlight is an essential resource. It provides energy, stimulates growth, and can even determine when a plant should germinate or flower.

But sunlight is composed of several distinct wavelengths, with those on the shorter end having potential to do damage to living cells.

"UV is part of what's called electromagnetic radiation, which is classified based on wavelength," explains Thomas Tenkate, a professor of public health at Ryerson University specializing in radiation exposure, who was not involved in this study, in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "The distance between the peaks of the wave is the wavelength. The shorter the wavelength, the more energy in that wave."

So why don't plants burn the same way?

To make use of different wavelengths of light, plants use a number of specialized molecules. For example, the pigment chlorophyll absorbs blue and red light and facilitates photosynthesis.

Previously, researchers identified a photoreceptor, now known as UVR8, in plant cells. These proteins absorb UV-B rays - hence the name - and congregate in the cell nucleus, setting off a chain of biochemical reactions relating to UV protection.

"Simply, UVR8 sees UV radiation and then tells the cell to make sunscreen," says Daniel Kliebenstein, a professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis, in an email to the Monitor. …

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