The yin-yang of uranium in Arabidopsis

Last updated: 10 Dec, 2017

Uranium isn't something people tend to think about in a positive light. But scientists from the Université Grenoble Alpes and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energies Commission (CEA) have shown how the toxic radionuclide can be beneficial in plants.


Plants absorb uranium from the soil. Once in the plant, it is incorporated into biomass and enters the food chain. Understanding the variety of mechanisms that control the response and adaptation of plants to uranium-induced stress is a prerequisite for selecting species suitable for phytoremediation and improving food safety.


Yin-yang effects of uranium on the physiology of the wild plant Arabidopsis thaliana (WT) and mutant irt1. After four to five weeks of hydroponic culture under standard conditions, Arabidopsis WT and irt1 plants are treated with uranyl nitrate, in the presence of high phosphate (HP) concentrations or low phosphate (LP) concentrations. Observations after a 21-day exposure in the presence of 50 μM uranyl nitrate.


Researchers experimented with a mutant of Arabidopsis thaliana (mutant irt1), which is less able to absorb iron, an essential element for growth. They found that the plant exhibited typical symptoms of iron deficiency – yellowed leaves and a reduction in photosynthesis – unless it was treated with uranium, in which case the symptoms were alleviated.


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Read the paper: Berthet, S., Villiers, F., Alban, C., Serre, N. B. C., Martin-Laffon, J., Figuet, S., Boisson, A.-M., Bligny, R., Kuntz, M., Finazzi, G., Ravanel, S. and Bourguignon, J. (2017) Arabidopsis thaliana plants challenged with uranium reveal new insights into iron and phosphate homeostasisNew Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/nph.14865


Mike Whitfield (@mgwhitfield)
Development Coordinator
New Phytologist