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article imageScientists find genetic mechanism for root development in plants

By Igor I. Solar     Mar 11, 2010 in Environment
Plant researchers in the UK discover a gene that controls root growth which may allow plant breeders to develop crops able to grow in poor soils.
Certain plants of economic importance, such as wheat, beans and barley, are able to survive and grow even in poor quality soil because their cells carry a gene encoding for development of very long root hairs able to burrow into the ground in search of nutrients. These roots can release chemicals that can crack rocky material and release phosphate and iron used for plant growth.
Professor Liam Dolan of Magdalen College, University of Oxford, and collaborators from John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK, and research institutes of Marseille, France and Hangzhou, China, are investigating the genetic regulation of root hair initiation and growth in rice, wheat and brassica (rapeseed) crops. The recently published results in a letter in Nature Genetics in February 2010, describe the finding of the gene factor for root development using thale cress or Arabidopsis (A. thaliana) as a model.
Arabidopsis is a small flowering plant native to Europe, Asia and north-western Africa. Because their small size and brief life cycle they have been used since 1986 as a model in laboratory studies on flower and root development. Additionally, they are very useful in genetic studies because they have only 5 chromosomes, although their genome, which was completely sequenced in 2000, comprises a relatively large number of genes, about 27.000 genes.
The gene factor found in Arabidopsis has been named RSL4. It works like a switch that can regulate growth by integrating endogenous developmental and exogenous environmental signals that control growth in root hairs. The discovery opens the possibility of developing plant breeds with enhanced nutrient uptake capabilities, able to grow efficiently in poor soils such as those found in extensive areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and China. Further benefits would accrue by reduction in the use of fertilizers and their runoff to water systems as pollutants.
Additional information on this research can be found at:
planetearth.nerc.ac.uk
nature.com/ng/journal
More about Root system, Arabidopsis, Rsl4
 
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