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A place in the sun
Date:4/4/2008

LA JOLLA, CA Those spindly plants that desperately try to reach for a break in the canopy formed by larger plants all suffer from the same affliction: Shade avoidance syndrome or SAS. Now, the molecular details of SAS have been brought to light by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

To step out of their neighbors shade, plants switch on a natural chemical factory for the synthesis of the plant growth hormone auxin that lets a plant grow and ultimately stretch toward the sun, the Salk researchers report in an article published in the April 4, 2008 issue of the journal Cell. Understanding this response at a molecular level will allow scientists to naturally manipulate this response to increase yield in crops ranging from rice to wheat.

Plants compete with each other for light, and shade avoidance syndrome has a big ecological and economic impact, especially in the high density plantings typical of modern agriculture, says Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Joanne Chory, Ph.D., a professor in the Plant Biology, who led the study. Suppressing the shade avoidance reaction in crops may allow us to increase biomass and seed yield.

Plants can sense and respond to the presence of other plants in their neighborhood by the relative increase in incoming far-red light resulting from absorption of red light by canopy leaves and reflection of far-red light from neighboring plants.

To secure their place in the sun, plants direct their growth resources toward stem elongation and away from bulking up harvestable portions such as leaves and seeds. If all else fails, the plants put out what I like to call a premature desperation flower to produce at least a couple of seeds that might find better growing conditions during the next season, explains Chory.

In an earlier study, Chory had confirmed the existence of a separate molecular pathway that plants use to adjust their growth and flowering time to
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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
kirchweger@salk.edu
858-453-4100 x1340
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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