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γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a plant signalling molecule

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The non-protein amino acid γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) has been proposed to be an ancient messenger for cellular communication conserved across biological kingdoms. GABA has well-defined signalling roles in animals; however, whilst GABA accumulates in plants under stress and influences plant tissue growth, it has not been determined if, how and when GABA acts as an endogenous plant signalling molecule. Here, we establish that endogenous GABA is a bona fide plant signal. We demonstrate GABA antagonises Arabidopsis thaliana stomatal movement in response to opening and closing stimuli to modulate transpirational water loss via direct inhibition of stomatal guard cell plasma membrane and tonoplast-localised anion transporters. We determine that GABA production within guard cells is necessary and sufficient to influence stomatal aperture as drought tolerance can be restored to GABA synthesis mutants through stomatal-specific genetic complementation, but not by mesophyll-specific complementation. Furthermore, we show that GABA control of stomatal movement is widely conserved across plant families including valuable dicot and monocot crops. Our finding that GABA augments guard cell signalling to fine tune plant water loss demonstrates that GABA is a novel plant signalling molecule that acts via a mechanism not found in animals. This discovery opens new avenues for manipulating crop water use and tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress.

Matt’s group studies the transport and signalling processes that underpin improvements in crop nutrition and stress tolerance. His research scales from genetics, through cell biology and whole plant physiology. Where applicable, his lab’s fundamental research is then applied through plant breeding to modify signalling and transport processes in plants to improve crop yield and quality in the field. His main areas of study include salinity tolerance, anionic nutrition and GABA signalling.

He is a program leader in the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, Chief Investigator on the ARC Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, Deputy Head of School (Research) for the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, recent Honorary Secretary of the Australian Society for Plant Scientists, convenor for the Adapting to abiotic stress and climate change special interest group of the Society for Experimental Biology and Monitoring Editor for Plant Physiology.

Matt gained a BSc in Ecology from Lancaster University and a PhD from the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. After a postdoc spent between Cambridge and Australia, he immigrated to Australia to run the Plant Transport and Signalling Laboratory at the Waite Campus, University of Adelaide, in 2006.

Matt will talk about his group’s latest work on elucidating a new signaling pathway in plants.

This talk is part of the What's on in Plant Sciences series.

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