"It's possible that by manipulating a single gene, you could get a plant with rapid growth," Benfey said. Interestingly, UPB1 appears to act independently of plant hormones that play well-known roles in the balance between cell division and differentiation.
From an engineering perspective, the prospect of enhancing growth by taking a gene away, as opposed to adding one, is particularly appealing, Benfey notes.
"It also suggests that plants are not growing at their full potential," he says. That makes sense, of course, as plants in the real world have to make tradeoffs, for example, between growth and reproduction.
In addition to their potential in biofuels production, the findings might also lead to new ways to produce bigger and stronger plants with the capacity to sequester more earth-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Benfey says. His startup company, GrassRoots Biotechnology Inc., has acquired the patent for this discovery with its potential in mind. The company's primary goals are the development of next-generation biofuels and the use of root systems for carbon sequestration.
|Contact: Kendall Morgan|