Horizontal movement of DNA (genes passing between species) is well-known and the basis of major research (and disagreement). Less known and much less researched is a similar sharing of proteins between species. Virtually unknown and probably under-researched is protein shared between plants and animals. New work by Wendy Peer at Purdue University (Indiana, USA) could change the outlook. For starters, she was able to save dying plants by injecting them with human protein.
A plant commonly used for research, Arabidopsis (rock cress), requires a particular protein (aminopeptidase M1 or APM1) for root development. Without the protein the plants die. In the experiments, the missing APM1 was replaced by using human insulin responsive aminopeptidase, or IRAP. The two proteins are from the same group (peptidase), although obviously far apart on the usual spectrum of genetic expression.
The realization that plants and animals share proteins with an obvious genetic heritage and have somewhat similar applications opens the door to using plants (instead of animals) for at least some types of protein research.
Peer said the finding could advance the understanding of this class of proteins because it might make it possible to conduct studies with plants instead of animals, offering researchers more control and options. Humans with altered function of the equivalent proteins often have leukemia or other cancers.
“There are more tools available in Arabidopsis to study this class of proteins than are available in animals,” Peer said. “This research could be translational and helpful in the animal field or with human health. If humans have changes in these peptidases, they’re very sick. Understanding how these proteins work in plants will help us understand how they work in humans.”
[Source: Purdue University]