A synthetic oxygen sensing device for plants

Plants can die from a lack of oxygen (hypoxia), which contributes to the devastating losses caused by flooding. Iacopino et al. set out to develop a more specific method for detecting oxygen levels in plants, based on the mammalian Hypoxia Inducible transcription Factor HIF.  HIF is hydroxylated by an oxygen-dependent enzyme, with the hydroxylated form interacting specifically with another protein, pVHL. The authors designed and extensively optimized a system through which the oxygen-sensing domain of HIF mediates transcription of luciferase in an oxygen-sensitive manner. Their synthetic oxygen sensor is functional in Arabidopsis plants and causes no growth abnormalities, and it is more sensitive and more specific than a sensor based on the hypoxia-induced plant ADH gene. This system can next be exploited to improve crop survival in flood-prone areas. (Summary by Mary Williams) Plant Physiol. 10.1104/pp.18.01003