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Why Poppies Have One Flower Per Stalk and Tomatoes Have Many

Date:
November 25, 2008
Source:
Public Library of Science
Summary:
Why do poppies and sunflowers grow as a single flower per stalk while each stem of a tomato plant has several branches, each carrying flowers? Botanists have identified a genetic mechanism that determines the pattern of flower growth in the Solanaceae family of plants that includes tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant, tobacco, petunia and deadly nightshades.

Why do poppies and sunflowers grow as a single flower per stalk while each stem of a tomato plant has several branches, each carrying flowers?
Credit: iStockphoto/Tobias Helbig

Why do poppies and sunflowers grow as a single flower per stalk while each stem of a tomato plant has several branches, each carrying flowers? Dr. Zachary Lippman and colleagues have identifed a genetic mechanism that determines the pattern of flower growth in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family of plants that includes tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant, tobacco, petunia, and deadly nightshades.

Manipulation of the identified pathway can turn the well known tomato vine into a highly branched structure with hundreds of flower-bearing shoots, and may thereby result in increased crop yields.

While the development of individual flowers is well understood, the molecular mechanisms that determine the architecture of inflorescences - flower-bearing shoots - are not. The way that inflorescences branch determines the number and distribution of flowers; in peppers (capsicum) inflorescences do not branch, so flowers are singular; in tomatoes, inflorescence branching is repetitive and regular, forming a zigzagged vine The tomato mutants anantha (an) and compound inflorescence (s) have long been known to produce large numbers of branches and flowers, and the new work elucidates the underlying genetics.

Dr. Lippman, and a team of researchers drawn from three institutions in Israel, investigated inflorescence branching by studying these mutant tomato plants. They identified the genes responsible: the anantha (AN) and compound inflorescence (S) genes. S is a member of the well known homeobox gene family, which plays a crucial regulatory role in patterning both animals and plants. Lippman et al. have shown that manipulation of these genes in tomato plants can dramatically alter the architecture and number of inflorescences, and that altered activity of AN in pepper plants can stimulate branching. Variation in S also explains the branching variation seen in domestically grown tomato strains.

The two genes work in sequence to regulate the timing of development of a branch and a flower – so, for example, slowing down the pathway that makes a flower allows for additional branches to grow. While this study by Lippman et al. focuses on variations in particular nightshades, the insight leads to a new understanding of how many plants, such as trees, control their potential to branch.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lippman et al. The Making of a Compound Inflorescence in Tomato and Related Nightshades. PLoS Biology, 2008; 6 (11): e288 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060288

Cite This Page:

Public Library of Science. "Why Poppies Have One Flower Per Stalk and Tomatoes Have Many." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081117203839.htm>.
Public Library of Science. (2008, November 25). Why Poppies Have One Flower Per Stalk and Tomatoes Have Many. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081117203839.htm
Public Library of Science. "Why Poppies Have One Flower Per Stalk and Tomatoes Have Many." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081117203839.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

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