Signal Transduction in Plants: From Reception to Response

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  • 0:00 Signal Transduction
  • 1:22 Signal Pathways
  • 3:46 Plant Signal Transduction
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Why are plants so sensitive to environmental changes? In this lesson, we explore signal transduction in plants and see how this helps plants adapt to the world around them.

Signal Transduction

Why shouldn't you ever play poker in the jungle? Because there are too many cheetahs! Hey! Get it? Now, I think that joke's funny, but how you reacted to it will influence whether or not I pursue a career in comedy. Why? Because one of the first social skills we learn is to judge the signals being communicated by other people. This is reassuring. This means stay away. This means don't ever try and tell jokes again.

Well believe it or not, cells actually have similar skills. Signal transduction is the process of changing cellular activity based on external signals. Basically, cells receive all sorts of signals from the world around them, from light to nutrients to temperature, and these prompt the cell to respond in a specific way. Signal transduction occurs in all sorts of living things, but lately one specific area has been gaining lots of attention. There may be no set of organisms on this planet more sensitive to environmental changes than plants, so studying them can unlock new information on this process. We're simply too excited about plants to 'leaf' it alone. Okay, I'll stop.

Signal Pathways

Alright, so let's take a quick look at how this works. We start with a change in the environment. This could be light, temperature, a chemical or molecule introduced into the environment, or a change in available nutrients. This change is recognized by a special molecule on the cell membrane called the extracellular signaling molecule. In this case, 'extra' means 'outside,' so extracellular means from 'outside the cell.' Upon receiving the signal, this molecule activates a receptor that kicks off a series of biochemical chain reactions to create a response called a signal pathway. Different signals will activate different pathways. For example, red light waves are very important for regulating photosynthesis, so when plants sense red light waves through a receptor called a phytochrome, it kicks off the phytochrome transduction pathway, the end result of which is that the plant starts preparing for photosynthesis. In plants, these various signal pathways are responsible for a great number of things, from germination to flowering to the ripening of fruit to the growth of new roots. Again, plants are extremely sensitive to environmental changes, and signal pathways are how they adjust to these changes.

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