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Galactolipids in plants

Prof. Dr. Peter Dörmann

In all organisms, biological membranes establish the barrier between a cell and its environment. Biological membranes also further divide eukaryotic cells into different functional compartments. Plants produce a unique set of lipids distinct from those of animals and bacteria. We study the biosynthesis and function of these lipids. Galactolipids are enriched in the chloroplast membranes of plants, where they largely outnumber other lipids such as phospholipids. Chloroplasts contain thylakoid membranes harboring the photosynthetic complexes that convert light into chemical energy. Galactolipids are required for optimal photosynthetic efficiency. It has become clear that under certain growth conditions such as phosphate limitation, galactolipids also occur outside of chloroplasts. Therefore, plants have developed an adaptive mechanism to deal with limiting phosphate levels; they replace phospholipids with digalactosyldiacylglycerol (DGDG) and thereby save phosphate for critical cellular processes. Our group is interested in the biosynthesis of the DGDG which is produced from monogalactosyldiacylglycerol (MGDG) by DGDG synthases (Dörmann et al., 1999). Arabidopsis thaliana contains two DGDG synthases, DGD1 and DGD2. The corresponding single and double mutants are shown in Figure 1 (Kelly et al., 2003).

Figure 1

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