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Plants on steroids: Key missing link discovered
Date:9/8/2009

Palo Alto, CA Researchers at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Plant Biology have discovered a key missing link in the so-called signaling pathway for plant steroid hormones (brassinosteroids). Many important signaling pathways are relays of molecules that start at the cell surface and cascade to the nucleus to regulate genes. This discovery marks the first such pathway in plants for which all the steps of the relay have been identified. Since this pathway shares many similarities with pathways in humans, the discovery not only could lead to the genetic engineering of crops with higher yields, but also could be a key to understanding major human diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's.

Steroids are important hormones in both animals and plants. Brassinosteroids regulate many aspects of growth and development in plants. Mutants deficient in brassinosteroids are often stunted and infertile. Brassinosteroids are similar in many respects to animal steroids, but appear to function very differently at the cellular level. Animal cells usually respond to steroids using internal receptor molecules within the cell nucleus, whereas in plants the receptors, called receptor-like kinases, are anchored to the outside surface of the cell membranes. For over a decade, scientists have tried to understand how the signal is passed from the cell surface to the nucleus to regulate gene expression. The final gaps were bridged in the study published in the advanced on-line issue of Nature Cell Biology September 6, 2009.

The research team unraveled the pathway in cells of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard often used as a model organism in plant molecular biology.

"This is the first completely connected signaling pathway from a plant receptor-like kinase, which is one of the biggest gene families in plants," says Carnegie's Zhi-Yong Wang, leader of the research team. "The Arabidopsis genome e
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Contact: Zhi-Yong Wang
zywang@ciw.edu
650-325-1521 x205
Carnegie Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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