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Computational analysis shows that plant hormones often go it alone

Unlike the Three Musketeers who lived by the motto "All for one, one for all," plant hormones prefer to do their own thing. For years, debate swirled around whether pathways activated by growth-regulating plant hormones converge on a central growth regulatory module. Now, the cooperation model is challenged by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. They show that each hormone acts largely independently in the Aug. 11 issue of Cell.

The Salk team found that specific plant hormones often activate different factors rather than a common target. "This result was completely unexpected because hormones with similar effects on plant growth seem to act on different gene sets," says the study's lead author Joanne Chory, Ph.D., a professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Plants rely on hormones, which act as chemical messengers to regulate every aspect of their biology. Growth, for example, is stimulated by multiple hormones -- brassinosteroids, auxins and gibberellins among them. The fact that these and several other hormones stimulate plant growth suggested to some investigators that eventually they all switch on the same growth-promoting genes.

To test that idea, the Chory team poured over data derived from the new gene-chip technology, in which samples of almost every gene expressed in a cell are spotted onto a tiny glass slide known as a microarray and analyzed under different physiological conditions. Although the analysis sounds complex, it answers a simple question: After stimulation with seven different growth hormones, are the same or different genes activated?

The teamwork model would predict yes, but Chory's team found otherwise. Co-lead authors Jennifer L. Nemhauser, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral fellow in Chory's lab and now assistant professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Fangxin Hong, Ph.D., a biostatistician in Chory's lab, found
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Source:Salk Institute


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