Magnesium plays a key role in both human and plant life. In humans, the mineral supports energy production as well as nerve and muscle function. While low magnesium levels don’t usually cause major symptoms, chronically low magnesium levels can cause osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes risk.
Although we know a lot about magnesium’s role in the activity of more than 300 enzymes dealing in everything from sugar regulation to protein synthesis, little is known about the uptake and transport of magnesium in plants. Fortunately, a recent study led by an international research team granted scientists a deeper understanding of how magnesium affects chloroplast health and photosynthesis as well as how plants transport magnesium.
The groundbreaking research shows that magnesium plays a key role in photosynthesis, the process through which plants use carbon dioxide, water and sunlight to create sugar (energy) and oxygen. Magnesium is integrated into the green pigmentation that allows photosynthesis (chlorophyll) and is even involved in photosynthetic membrane structuring. In fact, the researchers found that chloroplasts contain around 15% to 35% of a plant’s total magnesium content, indicating that it plays a major role in facilitating photosynthesis.
The international research team investigated three proteins to try and understand how magnesium travels from the ground, into the roots and through plants to reach the chloroplasts. Proteins MGT10, MGR8 and MGR9 were all instrumental in transporting magnesium across the chloroplast envelope membrane. While MGR8 and MGR9 seemed to act as magnesium transporters and needed sodium ions to function, MGT10 was a magnesium channel.
University of Gothenburg professor Cornelia Spetea said the research team saw an “evident decrease” in photosynthesis in plants that were mutated to lack one or more magnesium transport proteins, suggesting that the proteins do play a role in the transport of magnesium in plants. Furthermore, mutant plants without the MGT10 protein were not viable for study because they had yellow leaf veins rather than the usual green pigmentation. This indicated that the protein MGT10 and, by extension, magnesium, were critical in the development of chlorophyll and key to photosynthetic performance.
Given that the presence of yellow leaf vein is also associated with certain nutrient deficiencies and plant diseases, the recent findings add weight to the theory that insufficient magnesium through intracellular membranes may result in chlorophyll and pigment-related symptoms. As such, researchers concluded that the presence of the trio of proteins involved in magnesium transport is crucial to plant metabolism and the continued performance of the global agriculture sector.
Extraction companies that focus on producing magnesium and other plant nutrients, such as Compass Minerals International Inc. (NYSE: CMP), are helping to ensure that agricultural productivity improves in order to meet the food-security needs of populations around the world.
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