Research: Iron homeostasis in plants


Iron is one of the most important and most problematic of all the micronutrients used by living organisms. Iron is an essential cofactor for many cellular redox reactions, yet the same high reactivity that makes it so useful can cause cellular damage if iron is not carefully controlled. Add to this problem that iron is also only sparingly soluble in aqueous solution, and it is easy to see why plants have evolved multifaceted iron homeostatic mechanisms. These mechanisms include control of uptake, translocation from organ to organ and cell to cell, re-mobilization of stored iron, as well as poorly understood sensing and signaling systems by which the plant communicates its iron status between tissues.

Many of the mechanisms involved in plant iron homeostasis are not well understood, and this is a major obstacle to devising approaches for biofortification of staple foods with iron. Biofortification refers to the genetic engineering of staple crops to accumulate additional bioavailable iron in edible parts. The rural poor consume large amounts of staple food crops that do not provide them with enough micronutrients. Biofortification is widely regarded as a sustainable means of improving the iron nutrition of the 2-3 billion people worldwide whose inadequate diet causes iron deficiency anemia.