Understanding how plants can grow in high magnesium environments

January 27, 2022

In a paper published this week in Nature Plants, researchers in the lab of Professor Sheng Luan describe their discovery of a conserved mechanism for fungi and plants that allows them to handle extra magnesium (Mg) in the environment around them. 

One known area with high magnesium levels is the “serpentine soils” in central and northern California, which inhibit growth of most plants. 

The new research shows that both fungi and plant cells use vacuoles—spaces within the cytoplasm of a cell bound by a membrane—to store excessive magnesium away from the metabolically active parts in the cell. According to the research, this mechanism is enabled by a family of Mg transport proteins in the vacuolar membrane that pump the Mg from cytosol to the vacuolar lumen, allowing plants and fungi to survive under high external Mg. 

Another place rich in magnesium is soil on Mars. “If humans ever migrated to Mars, we need crops that can survive high magnesium,” said Luan. “These findings could help that future effort.”