The mixotrophic nature of photosynthetic plants

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Journal Article
Functional Plant Biology, 2013, 40 (5), pp. 425 - 438
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Plants typically have photosynthetically competent green shoots. To complement resources derived from the atmospheric environment, plants also acquire essential elements from soil. Inorganic ions and molecules are generally considered to be the sources of soil-derived nutrients, and plants tested in this respect can grow with only inorganic nutrients and so can live as autotrophs. However, mycorrhizal symbionts are known to access nutrients from organic matter. Furthermore, specialist lineages of terrestrial photosynthetically competent plants are mixotrophic, including species that obtain organic nutrition from animal prey (carnivores), fungal partners (mycoheterotrophs) or plant hosts (hemi-parasites). Although mixotrophy is deemed the exception in terrestrial plants, it is a common mode of nutrition in aquatic algae. There is mounting evidence that non-specialist plants acquire organic compounds as sources of nutrients, taking up and metabolising a range of organic monomers, oligomers, polymers and even microbes as sources of nitrogen and phosphorus. Plasma-membrane located transporter proteins facilitate the uptake of low-molecular mass organic compounds, endo-and phagocytosis may enable the acquisition of larger compounds, although this has not been confirmed. Identifying the mechanisms involved in the acquisition of organic nutrients will provide understanding of the ecological significance of mixotrophy. Here, we discuss mixotrophy in the context of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrition drawing parallels between algae and plants. © 2013 CSIRO.
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