Sugar Permeation in Plant Aquaporins: A Groundbreaking Discovery

Conal Cram
3 Min Read

In a landmark study, the University of Adelaide has unveiled a surprising phenomenon: sugar permeation in plant aquaporins. This breakthrough challenges the traditional understanding that aquaporins, known primarily as water transporters, could not facilitate the movement of larger molecules like sucrose. This revelation not only expands the scope of aquaporins’ functions in plant biology but also paves the way for innovative approaches in plant bioengineering for enhanced food production and resilience.

Aquaporins: More Than Just Water Channels

Aquaporins have been recognized since their discovery in 1993 by Nobel Laureate Peter Agre as critical channels for water transport in plant cell membranes. However, the University of Adelaide’s research introduces a paradigm shift. “We used nanobiotechnology, electrophysiology, protein chemistry, protein modeling, and computational chemistry… exploring around 3,000 aquaporins,” explains Professor Maria Hrmova of the University of Adelaide.

A Multidisciplinary Approach to Discovery

The researchers employed a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach, integrating nanobiotechnology, electrophysiology, protein chemistry, protein modeling, and computational chemistry. This approach was pivotal in observing the biochemical process in HvNIP2;1, a specific Nodulin 26-like Intrinsic Protein in barley, which exhibited unique structural characteristics allowing it to transport saccharides.

Implications for Plant Biology and Bioengineering

The discovery of sucrose transport in aquaporins widens the understanding of these proteins’ role in plant biology. “This work exemplifies that we need to be more open-minded about what different aquaporins may permeate, besides water,” notes the paper’s co-author, Professor Steve Tyerman. The findings have significant implications for bioengineering, particularly in designing novel proteins with enhanced characteristics like substrate specificity and thermostability.

Looking to the Future

The Adelaide team’s research is a stepping stone to further studies. Professor Hrmova mentions, “We also performed full-scale steered molecular dynamics simulations of HvNIP2;1 and a spinach aquaporin… revealing potential rectification of water, boric acid, and sucrose.” This indicates a broader spectrum of functions for aquaporins than previously understood.


This discovery, published in the prestigious Journal of Biological Chemistry, not only highlights the importance of challenging assumed knowledge but also underscores the potential for aquaporins in agricultural biotechnology. As we delve deeper into the microscopic world of plant biology, what other mysteries do you think we might uncover? Share your thoughts and join the conversation in the comments below.

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Conal is a seasoned tech industry professional and content writer for numerous tech publications. With a strong background in software engineering and digital media development, he's passionate about sharing the latest updates and insights in the tech industry, particularly in artificial intelligence and other disruptive trends. In his spare time he loves a mezze platter and a good film, and if he's not playing Fortnite or spending time with his daughter you can assume he's at the dry slopes!
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