Leaves of some plants emit isoprene, a volatile hydrocarbon. This is formed by a novel chloroplastic isoprenoid biosynthetic pathway, the 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate pathway. The thermoprotection hypothesis suggests that isoprene protects thylakoids from damage at high temperatures. In this article, we discuss the most recent discoveries about the metabolic pathway underlying isoprene biosynthesis, explore the experimental evidence surrounding thermoprotection and advance some alternative hypotheses about the adaptive role that isoprene biosynthesis might play.
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