Phytochrome control of plant growth and metabolism in Arabidopsis thaliana
Plants rely on light to supply photosynthetic energy and to provide information of the surrounding environment. Phytochromes are photoreceptors that sense external light quality and quantity, which in turn guide the strategy of plant growth. A large body of research has focused on Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings, where phytochrome control of responses such as hypocotyl elongation, hook opening and cotyledon greening, has been intensively explored. Mathematical models have also helped elucidate the molecular mechanism of phytochrome signalling. A smaller proportion of studies have investigated the role of phytochrome in controlling plant plasticity in adult plants. This work has shown that phytochrome depletion enhances leaf petiole elongation and slows growth, but there is a lack of information on how these marked changes alter metabolism. In this thesis, I use phytochrome multiple mutants of to explore how phytochromes interact with metabolism to affect plant growth. My analysis revealed that phytochrome loss results in dramatically reduced biomass production, especially in high order phyABDE mutant that lacks four out of five phytochromes. This is caused, at least partly, by impaired photosynthesis in phytochrome mutants, including reduced chlorophyll level and less CO2 uptake. Furthermore, cell wall synthesis and protein levels, major dry biomass constituents, are also repressed in phytochrome-depleted plants. Interestingly, these mutants accumulate more daytime sucrose and starch than wild type does, possibly due to their retarded growth in light. Further metabolic profiling reveals that these phytochrome mutants over-accumulate sugars, organic acids and amino acids. The sizable increase in raffinose and proline suggests a possible link to stress tolerance. Indeed, ABA and salt responses are significantly reduced in phytochrome mutants at both seedling and adult stages. These mutants are also more resistant to prolonged darkness, with less chlorophyll degradation in dark and higher survival rates. Collectively, this thesis shows that phytochromes have a novel role in plant resource management, controlling the allocation of resources for growth, switching the metabolism between growth and stress-coping states based on the availability of light from the environment. It brings new interest into phytochrome research in Arabidopsis, suggesting possible application of such knowledge to crop studies in the future.