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Keywords:

  • silicon;
  • NIP aquaporin;
  • horsetail;
  • Equisetum arvense;
  • transporter;
  • RNA-Seq

Summary

Plants benefit greatly from silicon (Si) absorption provided that they contain Si transporters. The latter have recently been identified in the roots of some higher plants known to accumulate high concentrations of Si, and all share a high level of sequence identity. In this study, we searched for transporters in the primitive vascular plant Equisetum arvense (horsetail), which is a valuable but neglected model plant for the study of Si absorption, as it has one of the highest Si concentrations in the plant kingdom. Our initial attempts to identify Si transporters based on sequence homology with transporters from higher plants proved unsuccessful, suggesting a divergent structure or property in horsetail transporters. Subsequently, through sequencing of the horsetail root transcriptome and a search using amino acid sequences conserved in plant aquaporins, we were able to identify a multigene family of aquaporin Si transporters. Comparison of known functional domains and phylogenetic analysis of sequences revealed that the horsetail proteins belong to a different group than higher-plant Si transporters. In particular, the newly identified proteins contain a STAR pore as opposed to the GSGR pore common to all previously identified Si transporters. In order to determine its functionality, the proteins were heterologously expressed in both Xenopus oocytes and Arabidopsis, and the results showed that the horsetail proteins are extremely efficient a transporting Si. These findings offer new insights into the elusive properties of Si and its absorption by plants.