Well, breaking news for me at least. Weird things happen when you’re busy searching for references. You may be stuck by some really peculiar development of scientific research, one you would barely have thought of. Like this one. Plant autophagy. Typically a nominee for the “word of the week” category.
This one is so picturesque that I experienced an immediate and vivid synaesthestic emotion. Plant autophagy really sounds weird (as it was looking, weird!). So far, the reality behind this is less appealing than these prime fantasies, though no less interesting:
Autophagy is a conserved mechanism for the degradation of cellular contents in order to recycle nutrients or break down damaged or toxic material. This occurs by the uptake of cytoplasmic constituents into the vacuole, where they are degraded by vacuolar hydrolases.
Yep. That’s just a natural process of the cell, allowing to cycle precious nutrients. You may immediately think of what happens when fall falls and forests turn redish. But curiously, it was also mainly thought to happen as a result of starvation. But it turns out that recent findings link the process to many other roles:
In plants, autophagy has been known for some time to be important for nutrient remobilization during sugar and nitrogen starvation and leaf senescence, but recent (…) roles include the degradation of oxidized proteins during oxidative stress, disposal of protein aggregates, and possibly even removal of damaged proteins and organelles during normal growth conditions as a housekeeping function.
Ah, that’s quite a lot. Plants are apparently autophagous all day long. We are tempted to even see it as a pastime. (weird sounds are coming back). But we’re not done yet, since
A surprising regulatory function for autophagy in programmed cell death during the hypersensitive response to pathogen infection has also been identified.
Yep again. That’s not phagocytosis like in our spiny immune system yet, as this defensive autophagy results into programmed cell death, but that’s exciting to learn.
Bassham, D. C. (2007). Plant autophagy—more than a starvation response. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 10: 587–593.