An international team of researchers led by scientists at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan, Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, China, and the University of California, Los Angeles, have explained the mechanism by which cryptochrome 2 — a key photoreceptor that allows plants to respond to blue light—is switched on and off, allowing plants to remain responsive to light.
In recent years, significant progress has been made in understanding the function of cryptochromes. Initially it was hypothesized that the receptors were activated and inactivated through a process of “photoreduction”—a system like that used in the process of photosynthesis where electrons are transferred, moving energy across molecules.
To determine whether this was the real mechanism, the group began by screening transgenic lines of Arabidopsis—a model grass used in plant genetics—using the FOX library developed by Takanari Ichikawa and Minami Matsui of the former RIKEN Plant Science Center, to find lines that expressed phenotypes similar to a mutant strain that does not respond properly to blue light. They identified lines that overexpress a protein, named BIC1, which corresponded to the mutant phenotype. They determined that this protein blocks the action of the cryptochrome 2 photoreceptor.
Further, through a series of experiments, they were able to show that it was not a process of photoreduction, and uncovered the exact mechanism through which this takes place.
It turns out that cryptochrome 2 undergoes a conformational change—taking a dimer form—when exposed to blue light, and that this homodimer form is the active form. The dimer form, however, disappeared in the presence of the BIC1 protein.
“We have shown,” says Matsui, one of the leaders of the study, “that there is a desensitization mechanism, where the photoactivated photoreceptor is regulated in blue light to avoid excess response. This is important as it allows plants to maintain the homeostasis of their blue light responsiveness in order to adapt to the fluctuating light environment in nature.”
Matsui continues, “Through this work, we hope to learn how we can use the action of BIC1 to develop plants with better biomass characteristics. This work is also important because animal cryptochromes also form homodimers, and this can help us gain clues into how the circadian rhythm is maintained in animals.”
Original paper can be accessed here.