The latest major group of plants to evolve were the grasses. These became important in the mid-Paleogene about 40 million years ago. During evolution, leaf CO2 uptake and transpirational water loss were optimized by the acquisition of grass-specific stomatal complexes. In contrast to the kidney-shaped guard cells (GCs) typical of the dicots such as Arabidopsis, in the grasses and agronomically important cereals, the GCs are dumbbell shaped and are associated with morphologically distinct subsidiary cells (SCs). We studied the molecular basis of GC action in the major cereal crop barley. Upon feeding ABA to xylem sap of an intact barley leaf, stomata closed in a nitrate-dependent manner. This process was initiated by activation of GC SLAC-type anion channel currents. HvSLAC1 expressed in Xenopus oocytes gave rise to S-type anion currents that increased several-fold upon stimulation with >3 mM nitrate. We identified a tandem amino acid residue motif that within the SLAC1 channels differs fundamentally between monocots and dicots. When the motif of nitrate-insensitive dicot Arabidopsis SLAC1 was replaced by the monocot signature, AtSLAC1 converted into a grass-type like nitrate-sensitive channel. Our work reveals a fundamental difference between monocot and dicot GCs and prompts questions into the selective pressures during evolution that resulted in fundamental changes in the regulation of SLAC1 function. Schäfer et al. report that guard cells of the cereal crop barley require nitrate for ABA-induced stomatal closure—a feature accomplished by the guard cell anion channel HvSLAC1. Nitrate-dependent gating of HvSLAC1 and other monocot SLAC1-type anion channels evolved from a TMD3 tandem motif after the split between monocots and dicots.
- guard cells
- hordeum volgare
- nitrate activated anion channel
- S-type anion channel