LA JOLLA, CA-For a plant, light is life. It drives everything from photosynthesis to growth and reproduction. Yet the chain of molecular events that enables light signals to control gene activity and ultimately a plant's architecture had remained in the dark. Now a team of researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Duke University have identified the courier that gives the signal to revamp the plant's gene expression pattern after photoreceptors have been activated by light.
"Light is probably the most important environmental cue for a plant," says Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Joanne Chory, Ph.D., professor and director of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory and holder of the Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair. "Understanding how light signaling triggers morphological changes in the plant will have a really big impact on every facet of plant biology."
Most animals are able to move away from unfavorable conditions, but plants are sessile and must cope with whatever comes their way. "They have developed an amazing plasticity to deal with varying environmental conditions," says first author Meng Chen, Ph.D., formerly a postdoctoral researcher in the Chory laboratory and now an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Duke University.
Their findings, which are published in the June 25 issue of Cell, bring scientists a photon closer to being able to harness plants' phenotypic plasticity to help boost agricultural yields and manage weeds under challenging growing conditions.
Because plants are so reliant on light, they have evolved a number of different photoreceptors that are defined by the color of light they absorb. For example, photoreceptors absorbing in the red/far-red spectral range, also known as phytochromes, help sense the presence of other plants in their neighborhood by detecting changes in the color of light. Plants then use this information to
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