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UC San Diego biologists solve plant growth hormone enigma

explained Youfa Cheng, a postdoctoral fellow working with Zhao. "Even with the advances in technology, it took about three years to produce plants lacking at least four of the 11 YUCCA genes."

Disrupting one YUCCA gene did not have any obvious effects. Therefore, there is overlap in the functions of the genes in this family. However, when two or more YUCCA genes were inactivated, the plants had developmental defects. The defects, including flowers with missing or misshapen parts, or deformations in the tissues that transport water and nutrients throughout the plant, differed depending on which combinations of genes were deleted.

The researchers say that this finding was surprising because most people in the field thought that where auxin was made did not really matter. The widely held view was that auxin could just be transported wherever it was needed. Not so, because turning auxin off in specific tissues of the plant led to defects in those tissues, while the rest of the plant appeared normal.

"Knowing which auxin genes are activated when should make it possible to modify plant development," said Zhao. "It wouldn't require adding any new genes to the plant, just changing when the appropriate auxin genes were on or off could alter growth. For example, to make seedless tomatoes, one could activate auxin in the floral organs before fertilization has taken place."

Applying auxin to the flowers by hand can also induce seedless tomatoes, or other seedless fruit, but this method is too tedious to be useful for commercial purposes. Seedless fruits would not just be novelty items. For example, Zhao points out that seeds significantly increase the effort and waste involved in producing tomato sauce.

"This study is a real tour de force," commented Martin Yanofsky, a professor of biology at UCSD, who was not one of the authors of the study. "People have been trying to figure out auxin for decades. By carefully inactiva
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Source:University of California - San Diego


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