The role of mitochondria in plant development and stress tolerance

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Abstract

Eukaryotic cells require orchestrated communication between nuclear and organellar genomes, perturbations in which are linked to stress response and disease in both animals and plants. In addition to mitochondria, which are found across eukaryotes, plant cells contain a second organelle, the plastid. Signaling both among the organelles (cytoplasmic) and between the cytoplasm and the nucleus (i.e. nuclear-cytoplasmic interactions (NCI)) is essential for proper cellular function. A deeper understanding of NCI and its impact on development, stress response, and long-term health is needed in both animal and plant systems. Here we focus on the role of plant mitochondria in development and stress response. We compare and contrast features of plant and animal mitochondrial genomes (mtDNA), particularly highlighting the large and highly dynamic nature of plant mtDNA. Plant-based tools are powerful, yet underutilized, resources for enhancing our fundamental understanding of NCI. These tools also have great potential for improving crop production. Across taxa, mitochondria are most abundant in cells that have high energy or nutrient demands as well as at key developmental time points. Although plant mitochondria act as integrators of signals involved in both development and stress response pathways, little is known about plant mtDNA diversity and its impact on these processes. In humans, there are strong correlations between particular mitotypes (and mtDNA mutations) and developmental differences (or disease). We propose that future work in plants should focus on defining mitotypes more carefully and investigating their functional implications as well as improving techniques to facilitate this research.

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