SWEET sugar transporters for phloem transport and pathogen nutrition



Many intercellular solute transport processes require an apoplasmic step, that is, efflux from one cell and subsequent uptake by an adjacent cell. Cellular uptake transporters have been identified for many solutes, including sucrose; however, efflux transporters have remained elusive for a long time. Cellular efflux of sugars plays essential roles in many processes, such as sugar efflux as the first step in phloem loading, sugar efflux for nectar secretion, and sugar efflux for supplying symbionts such as mycorrhiza, and maternal efflux for filial tissue development. Furthermore, sugar efflux systems can be hijacked by pathogens for access to nutrition from hosts. Mutations that block recruitment of the efflux mechanism by the pathogen thus cause pathogen resistance. Until recently, little was known regarding the underlying mechanism of sugar efflux. The identification of sugar efflux carriers, SWEETs (Sugars Will Eventually be Exported Transporters), has shed light on cellular sugar efflux. SWEETs appear to function as uniporters, facilitating diffusion of sugars across cell membranes. Indeed, SWEETs probably mediate sucrose efflux from putative phloem parenchyma into the phloem apoplasm, a key step proceeding phloem loading. Engineering of SWEET mutants using transcriptional activator-like effector nuclease (TALEN)-based genomic editing allowed the engineering of pathogen resistance. The widespread expression of the SWEET family promises to provide insights into many other cellular efflux mechanisms.