Root or shoot

February 28, 2010

LA JOLLA, CA--The first order of business for any fledgling plant embryo is to determine which end grows the shoot and which end puts down roots. Now, researchers at the Salk Institute expose the turf wars between two groups of antagonistic genetic master switches that set up a plant's polar axis with a root on one end and a shoot on the other.

"In what is arguably the most important decision for a plant, setting up the root/shoot axis, occurs during the early embryonic stages," says the study's lead author Jeffrey A. Long, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory. "A tightly controlled balancing act between two groups of transcriptions factors ensures that they stay where they belong and don't get into each other's way."

Plant embryogenesis establishes a very simple structure that contains two stem cell populations: the shoot meristem, which will give rise to all the "above-ground" organs such as the stem, the leaves and the flowers, and is the site of photosynthesis; and the root meristem, which gives rise to the root system, which lies below the ground and provides water and nutrients to the plant.

"Since plant stem cells ultimately give rise to all edible parts of plants understanding how their fate and function are regulated can be directly applied to modify the architecture of plants and to increase the yields of agriculturally important crops," says Long.

The Salk researchers' findings are published in the Feb. 28, 2010 advance online edition of the journal Nature.

"This work shows how genes interact in complex ways to establish organs along the root-shoot axis," said Susan Haynes, Ph.D., who oversees developmental biology grants at the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "The study reveals important parallels with the gene networks that coordinate organ formation in animal embryos, and helps us understand the critical mechanisms that guide normal development."

While investigating why a defective TOPLESS gene messes with a plant's basic architecture--mutant embryos develop into a seedling topped with a second root instead of a stem with leaves--Long and his team discovered functional TOPLESS codes for a repressor protein that inactivates genes that otherwise would cause root development in the shoot area of the plant.

In the current study Zachery R. Smith, a graduate student in Long's laboratory, discovered that these fate-transforming genes are actually two familiar characters: the genes PLETHORA 1 and 2 had been known to act as master regulators that determine the identity of the root meristem.

"Without TOPLESS to keep them turned off, however, these two transcription factors are free to impose their will on the top half of the plant embryo causing the development of a second root instead of a shoot," explains Smith.

With the "below-ground" hierarchy worked out, the question of how the identity of the shoot meristem is determined was still unanswered. Trying to unearth the missing master regulators of shoot development, Smith searched trough tens of thousands of mutant plants, till he hit on a member of the CLASS III HD-ZIP transcription factors, known as PHABULOSA, that fit the bill.

When the Salk researchers forcefully expressed members of the CLASS III HD-ZIP family in the traditional territory of the PLETHORA duo, it transformed the root into a shoot, resulting in a seedling with leaves on both ends. "Although it had been known that HD-ZIPs are involved in many aspects of plant polarity nobody had ever shown that they can transform a root pole into a shoot pole," says Long. "This and other experiments showed that HD-ZIP III genes are master regulators of apical fate in early embryogenesis."

Further studies revealed an antagonistic relationship between the PLETHORA and HD-ZIP III genes, both of which are under multiple modes of regulation that ensures proper spatial distribution and apical-basal patterning.
-end-
The work was supported in part by the Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, NIGMS.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world's preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

Salk Institute

Related Transcription Factors Articles from Brightsurf:

Circular RNA regulates neuronal differentiation by scaffolding an inhibitory transcription complex
In a screening for a functional impact to the neuronal differentiation process, Danish researchers identified a specific circular RNA, circZNF827, which surprisingly 'taps the brake' on neurogenesis.

Transcription factors may inadvertently lock in DNA mistakes
A team of Duke researchers has found that transcription factors have a tendency to bind strongly to ''mismatched'' sections of DNA, i.e. sections of the genome that were not copied correctly.

New role assigned to a human protein in transcription and genome stability
DNA-RNA hybrids, or R loops, are structures that generate genomic instability, a common feature of tumor cells.

CeMM study reveals how a master regulator of gene transcription operates
Using TPD technology, CeMM researchers set out to understand set out to understand the primary role of a key regulator of transcription, the human Mediator complex.

Researchers find new role for dopamine in gene transcription and cell proliferation
A joint group of researchers at the George Washington University and the University of Pittsburgh have found that dopamine and the dopamine D2 receptor modulate expression via the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway.

SMAD2 and SMAD3, two almost identical transcription factors but with distinct roles
Both transcription factors regulate the expression of genes involved in embryo development, among other functions, although they exert very different roles.

Study explores role of mediator protein complex in transcription and gene expression
A new study led by Ryerson University called 'The Med31 Conserved Component of the Divergent Mediator Complex in Tetrahymena thermophila Participates in Developmental Regulation' advances existing knowledge about transcription and gene expression.

New members found in a transcription factor complex that maintains beta cells
A protein complex in the nucleus of beta cells contains different proteins that work together to regulate genes important for the development and maintenance of functional beta cells.

Testifying while black: A linguistic analysis of disparities in court transcription
A new study has found that court reporters transcribe speakers of African American English significantly below their required level of accuracy.

Transcription factor network gets to heart of wood formation
Research on high-level switches that control wood formation has applications in timber, paper and biofuels, as well as making forests healthier.

Read More: Transcription Factors News and Transcription Factors Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.