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Plant genes identified that can form basis for crops better adapted to environmental conditions

Roots are crucial for the development of strong, healthy crops. But until recently, exactly which genes are involved in the development of roots was still a mystery. Scientists from the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) connected to Ghent University have now analyzed a complete plant genome in order to identify the genes that are essential for the formation of capillary roots. For the first time, they are unraveling the genetic basis for the branching of the root system − the key to a plant's further growth and development.

The mystery of capillary root formation

Root systems absorb nutrients and anchor plants in the soil − two crucial functions for a plant's growth and further development. The formation of capillary roots is vital to the root system and determines how much water and minerals a plant can absorb. As early as 1937, scientists knew that it takes only 4 months for a single rye plant to produce some 13 million individual roots! But up to now, the genetic basis of this complex process has remained unexplained.

The production of new roots is a complex combination of cell division, growth and differentiation. A specialized layer of cells in the root − the pericycle cells − must be activated to start dividing again. Therefore, it is also crucial that the cell cycle − the process that directs cell division − be under optimal control. Although the precise factors that underlie these processes and how they work together are virtually unknown, it has been quite clear that an enormous number of factors are involved.

Tom Beeckman and his team in the VIB Department of Plant Systems Biology took on the challenge of identifying all the genes that are involved in the process of capillary root formation. They used a simple model plant for this study: the Mouse-ear Cress or Arabidopsis thaliana.

Large-scale research identifies genes involved in capillary root
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Source:VIB, Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology


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