Molecular cell biologist Pankaj Dhonukshe from Utrecht University has succeeded in growing roots on plants at places where normally leaves would grow. This important step in plant modification can be highly beneficial for improving crop yields and efficiency in agriculture.
This research was largely carried out in collaboration between Utrecht University (The Netherlands) and Ghent University (Belgium) with help from scientists in Japan, USA and Switzerland. The results of this research appeared as an advance online publication of the weekly science journal Nature on 26 October 2008.
The plant hormone auxin plays a crucial role in coordination of stem cells and organ formation in plants. It promotes the formation of roots from stem cells and coordinates the growth of leaves and fruits. Auxin is produced mainly in young leaves, or shoots, and is then transported from one cell to the next towards the basal region of plant ultimately leading towards root formation.
Pankaj Dhonukshe discovered a molecular switch to alter the auxin transport. By turning on the switch, Dhonukshe was able to reduce the extent of auxin transport towards the roots. The hormone then began to accumulate at the places in the young leaves where it is produced and roots began to emerge here where normally leaves would grow.
These results are an important step in our understanding of the way plants grow and create novel future possibilities to modify the positioning of various plant organs such as roots, fruits and leaves. This specific manipulation of plant architecture promises to enhance yield-traits and crop harvesting. Molecular switches are particularly interesting for influencing plant forms, because utilization of traditional plant refinement approaches has certain limitations. The Utrecht research group is currently examining further interesting possibilities in this area.
Dhonukshe carried out the developmental biology research at Utrecht University, and the cellular biology research in cooperation with Ghent University.
Utrecht University has organised its top-level research into fifteen focus areas, which are intended to promote high-quality research and contribute to solving major problems in society. The study described above falls under the category ‘Life Sciences and Biocomplexity’, in which research is being carried out into all the processes in the cell from the molecular scale to the creation of multi-celled organisms and the interaction among cells. Genomics and proteomics form an important part of this area.
For more information, please visit http://www.uu.nl/EN/research/focusareas/.
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