Oxalate oxidases (OXOs) have been found to be concentrated in the surface tissues of wheat embryos and grains: germin is concentrated in root and leaf sheaths that surround germinated embryos; pseudogermin (OXO-ψ) is concentrated in the epidermis and bracts that ‘encircle’ mature grains. Most strikingly, the epidermal accumulation of OXO-ψ was found to presage the transition of a delicate ‘skin’, similar to the fragile epidermis of human skin, into the tough shell (the miller's ‘beeswing’) that is typical of mature wheat grains. A narrow range of oxalate concentration (1-2 mM) in the hydrated tissues of major crop cereals (barley, maize, oat, rice, rye and wheat) contrasted with wide variations in their OXO expression, e.g. cold-tolerant and cold-sensitive varieties of maize have similar oxalate contents but the former was found to contain approx. 20-fold more germin than did the latter. Well-known OXOs in sorghum, a minor cereal, and beet, a dicotyledon, were found to have little antigenic relatedness to the germins, but the beet enzyme did share some of the unique stability properties that are peculiar to the germin-like OXOs that are found only in the major crop cereals. Their concentration in surface structures of domesticated wheat suggests a biochemical role for germin-like OXOs: programmed cell death in surface tissues might be a constitutive as well as an adaptive form of differentiation that helps to produce refractory barriers against tissue invasion by predators. Incidental to the principal investigation, and using an OXO assay (oxalate-dependent release of CO2) that did not rely on detecting H2O2, which is often fully degraded in cell extracts, it was found that OXO activity in soluble extracts of wheat was manifested only in standard solution assays if the extract was pretreated in a variety of ways, which included preincubation with pepsin or highly substituted glucuronogalactoarabinoxylans (cell-wall polysaccharides).
- The Biochemical Society, London © 2000