As a system, plant metabolism is far from perfect: small molecules (metabolites, cofactors, coenzymes, and inorganic molecules) are frequently damaged by unwanted enzymatic or spontaneous reactions. Here, we discuss the emerging principles in small molecule damage biology. We propose that plants evolved at least three distinct systems to control small molecule damage: (i) repair, which returns a damaged molecule to its original state; (ii) scavenging, which converts reactive molecules to harmless products; and (iii) steering, in which the possible formation of a damaged molecule is suppressed. We illustrate the concept of small molecule damage control in plants by describing specific examples for each of these three categories. We highlight interesting insights that we expect future research will provide on those systems, and we discuss promising strategies to discover new small molecule damage-control systems in plants.
Keywords: Abiotic stress; enzyme promiscuity; glyoxalase system; metabolic intermediates; molecule damage; reactive carbonyl species; reactive oxygen species; repair system; scavenging systems; small molecules; steering systems.