Plant proteins, they’re just like us – they’ve got their everyday jobs and then, there’s their cool, somewhat secretive side hustle. In the plant world, there’s this protein known as “Non-Photochemical Quenching” or NPQ for convenience. Doesn’t sound too exciting, right? Wrong. Get this; its day job is to protect plants from too much sunlight, but now, thanks to the power of x-ray, scientists have discovered its secret moonlighting gig.
Yes, you heard that right, scientists have turned to x-rays (because x-rays make everything cooler) to see what this NPQ protein is up to when it’s not donning its invisible cape to save plants from the sun’s rays. It turns out, NPQ has a fun side job – assisting in the growth and development of plants. Who would’ve thought?
The swanky x-ray technology they used is called the X-ray free-electron laser, housed at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. With the help of this technology, scientists got a detailed view of the protein’s structure when it is turned on.
The beauty of this discovery is that it opens up a world of possibilities in improving the efficiency of crops and biofuels. Plants are incredibly efficient at harnessing sunlight, but too much of a good thing can be harmful. Thanks to NPQ, plants can protect themselves when there’s an overabundance of sunlight. However, when the sun sets or hides behind clouds, this protein takes a while to switch off, which reduces the efficiency of photosynthesis.
With the revelation of NPQ’s double life, scientists can now understand how to manipulate this protein to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis, leading to more productive crops and biofuels. Imagine a world where plants could instantly switch from ‘sun protection mode’ to ‘growth mode’, thereby harnessing more of the sunlight for growth when it’s available. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?
So, the next time you’re enjoying a sunny day out, remember there’s a superhero protein in the plants around you, working day and night, and now, thanks to some geeky scientists and their cool x-ray machine, we might be on the brink of a green revolution.