Plants acclimate their photosynthetic capacity (Pmax) in response to changing environmental conditions. In Arabidopsis thaliana, photosynthetic acclimation to cold requires the accumulation of the organic acid fumarate, catalysed by a cytosolically localized fumarase, FUM2. However, the role of this accumulation is currently unknown. Here, we use an integrated experimental and modelling approach to examine the role of FUM2 and fumarate across the physiological temperature range. We have studied three genotypes: Col-0; a fum2 mutant in a Col-0 background; and C24, an accession with reduced FUM2 expression. While low temperature causes an increase in Pmax in the Col-0 plants, this parameter decreases following exposure of plants to 30 °C for 7 d. Plants in which fumarate accumulation is partially (C24) or completely (fum2) abolished show a reduced acclimation of Pmax across the physiological temperature range (i.e. Pmax changes less in response to changing temperature). To understand the role of fumarate accumulation, we have adapted a reliability engineering technique, Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA), to formalize a rigorous approach for ranking metabolites according to the potential risk that they pose to the metabolic system. FMEA identifies fumarate as a low-risk metabolite, while its precursor, malate, is shown to be high risk and liable to cause system instability. We propose that the role of FUM2 is to provide a fail-safe in order to control malate concentration, maintaining system stability in a changing environment. We suggest that FMEA is a technique that is not only useful in understanding plant metabolism but can also be used to study reliability in other systems and synthetic pathways.
- Reliability engineering