Role of K in Plants

K+ is an essential macronutrient for plants, composing up to 10% of the total plant dry weight (Taiz and Zeiger 1991) and fulfilling important functions in metabolism, growth, and stress adaptation.

K+ functions can be classified into those that rely on high and relatively stable concentrations of the nutrient in certain cellular compartments or tissues and those that rely on its movement between different compartments, cells, or tissues (Amtmann et al. 2004). The first class of functions includes enzyme activation, stabilisation of protein synthesis, neutralization of negative charges on proteins, and maintenance of cyto-plasmic pH homeostasis (Marschner 1995). Other roles of K+ are linked to its high mobility. This is particularly evident where K+ movement is the driving force for osmotic changes - as, for example, in stomatal movement, light-driven and seismonastic movements of organs, and phloem transport. In other cases, K+ movement provides a charge balancing counter-flux essential for sustaining the movement of other ions. Thus, sugar, amino acid, and NO3- transport can be accompanied by a flux of K+ (Marschner 1995).

The most general phenomenon that requires directed movement of K+ is growth. Accumulation of K+ (together with an anion) in plant vacuoles creates the required osmotic potential for cell expansion which relies on its high mobility, and therefore only few other inorganic ions can replace K+ in this role (Reckmann et al. 1990). Once cell growth has come to a halt, maintenance of osmotic potentials can be carried out by less mobile sugars, and K+ ions can be partially recovered from vacuoles (Marschner 1995; Poffenroth et al. 1992).

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