Plants’ rapid response system revealed

August 6, 2012
Science has known about plant hormones since Charles Darwin experimented with plant shoots and showed that the shoots bend toward light as long as their tips, which are secreting a growth hormone, aren’t cut off.

But it is only recently that scientists have begun to put a molecular face on the biochemical systems that modulate the levels of plant hormones to defend the plant from herbivore or pathogen attack or to allow it to adjust to changes in temperature, precipitation or soil nutrients.

A cross-Atlantic collaboration among scientists working at the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory and at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility has revealed the workings of a switch that activates plant hormones, tags them for storage or marks them for destruction.

The research is relevant not just to the design of herbicides — some of which are synthetic plant hormones — but also to the genetic modification of plants to suit more extreme growing conditions due to unchecked climate change.

Reference: Corey S. Westfall et al., Science 336, 1708 (29 June 2012).

DOI: 10.1126/science.1221863.