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In time for spring, biologist illuminates how seedlings regulate growth
Date:4/21/2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] With seedlings and shoots still poking their leafy tops out of the soil, it's hard to read the newly published research of Brown University biologist Alison DeLong without musing that it provides a deeper understanding of what puts the spring in spring.

DeLong's paper, published in advance online April 21 in PLoS Genetics, reveals fertile new insights into the intricate network of proteins that controls plant growth and development, particularly at the seedling stage. But the research also runs deeper than the roots of any of the Arabidopsis thaliana specimens in her lab. The central enzyme in DeLong's investigation, protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A), operates in a wide variety of organisms, including in people, where it is associated with tumor growth. PP2A's universal role in life is to cleave a phosphoryl group off a protein to affect how it will function.

"Everybody has reversible protein phosphorylation," said DeLong, associate professor of biology in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry. "It's a question of how an organism regulates the dephosphorylation reaction. You need to do that correctly in order to regulate growth correctly."

Striving for the light

In A. thaliana, what DeLong wanted to discover about PP2A was how it regulates the production of ethylene, a gaseous hormone that inhibits the elongation of plant cells. As a plant embryo germinates, cells in the emerging shoot elongate to reach above the soil. Its goal is to reach daylight so that photosynthesis can begin before the reserve of food in the seed runs out. PP2A's job is to keep a lid on ethylene production during germination.

"Keeping these ethylene levels low is actually quite critical during this phase of growth," DeLong said.

In a series of experiments comparing normal A. thaliana plants to those with mutations that disabled PP2A and oth
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert

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