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To branch or not to branch
Date:6/26/2008

nflorescence has long branches at its base and a central spike with shorter branches that carry the pollen-bearing flowers. The female inflorescences, or ears, are laterally positioned and have short branches, which is important for efficient packing and harvesting of seeds.

The differences in grass inflorescence architecture have important implications for grain yield. For example, the more branches in rice, the higher the grain yield. The opposite is true for maize, which puts its energy into the massive cobs that sit on short side branches. These different patterns of branching are determined by meristems, plant stem cells located at the tips of growing stems and at the bases of leaves (axils). The activity of these meristems is regulated by networks of genes expressed throughout plant development. Among these architectural genes so important in the domestication of maize are the RAMOSA genes and proteins studied by Dr. Vollbrecht and other researchers.

Through their analyses of these and other mutants,Vollbrecht and his co-workers have determined that the three RAMOSA genes (RA1-3) regulate inflorescence branching in maize. RA1 and RA2 are transcription factors, proteins that control the process in which a gene's DNA strands are read and rewritten as RNA strands. RA3 encodes a phosphatase that is important in the biosynthesis of a sugar, trehalose, thought to be an important developmental signaling molecule. Vollbrecht and his colleagues suggest that these three genes, along with others, act in a network unique to grasses, which controls the architecture of the maize inflorescence and, ultimately, grain yield. RA2 acts upstream of RA1, which is expressed at the boundary of meristems and forces the stem cells to produce short branches. RA2, in turn, regulates RA1; and RA3 may be involved in modifying a mobile signal that tells axillary meristems either to stop making branches or to continue growth. When the three genes are muta
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Contact: Erik Vollbrecht
vollbrec@iastate.edu
515-294-9009
American Society of Plant Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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