Impact of UV light on the plant cell wall, methane emissions and ROS production
Messenger, David James
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This study presents the first attempt to combine the fields of ultraviolet (UV) photobiology, plant cell wall biochemistry, aerobic methane production and reactive oxygen species (ROS) mechanisms to investigate the effect of UV radiation on vegetation foliage. Following reports of a 17% increase in decomposition rates in oak (Quercus robur) due to increased UV, which were later ascribed to changes in cell wall carbohydrate extractability, this study investigated the effects of decreased UV levels on ash (Fraxinus excelsior), a fast-growing deciduous tree species. A field experiment was set up in Surrey, UK, with ash seedlings growing under polytunnels made of plastics chosen for the selective transmission of either all UV wavelengths, UV-A only, or no UV. In a subsequent field decomposition experiment on end-of-season leaves, a significant increase of 10% in decomposition rate was found after one year due to removal of UV-B. However, no significant changes in cell wall composition were found, and a sequential extraction of carbohydrate with different extractants suggested no effects of the UV treatments on cell wall structure. Meanwhile, the first observations of aerobic production of methane from vegetation were reported. Pectin, a key cell wall polysaccharide, was identified as a putative source of methane, but no mechanism was suggested for this production. This study therefore tested the effect of UV irradiation on methane emissions from pectin. A linear response of methane emissions against UV irradiation was found. UV-irradiation of de-esterified pectin produced no methane, demonstrating esters (probably methyl esters) to be the source of the observed methane. Addition of ROS-scavengers significantly decreased emissions from pectin, while addition of ROS without UV produced large quantities of methane. Therefore, this study proposes that UV light is generating ROS which are then attacking methyl esters to create methane. The study also demonstrates that this mechanism has the potential to generate several types of methyl halides. These findings may have implications for the global methane budget. In an attempt to demonstrate ROS generation in vivo by UV irradiation, radio-labelling techniques were developed to detect the presence of oxo groups, a product of carbohydrate attack by ROS. Using NaB3H4, the polysaccharides of ash leaflets from the field experiment were radio-labelled, but did not show any significant decrease in oxo groups due to UV treatments. However, UV-irradiation of lettuce leaves showed a significant increase in radio-labelling, suggesting increased UV irradiation caused an increase in the production of ROS. The study shows that the use of this radio-labelling technique has the potential to detect changes in ROS production due to changes in UV levels and could be used to demonstrate a link between ROS levels and methane emissions.