Nav: Home

Knowing how cells grow and divide can lead to more robust and productive plants

April 12, 2019

A large portion of a plant is hidden below the ground. This buried root system is essential for the plant: it provides stability, water, and food. In contrast to mammals, where the body plan is final at birth, the formation of new root branches ensures that the root system keeps growing throughout a plant's life. The labs of Prof. Ive De Smet and Prof. Tom Beeckman (VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology), together with researchers from the University of Nottingham (UK), Heidelberg University (Germany) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) identified a novel component that controls the development of root branches supporting plants. Their findings will be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Prof. Ive De Smet and his team investigate how plants deal with changing environments, specifically with temperature extremes and drought stress. Prof. Tom Beeckman and his team explore how (lateral) roots evolved and develop. In plants, new organs are formed all the time. To do this, there must be a tight regulation of when and where a new organ is formed, and of how the cells that will make up this organ need to grow and divide.

To investigate organ formation in plants, the researchers used root branching as a model system. This process occurs continuously along the growing root, endlessly increasing the root system, and requires an extremely fine-tuned coordination of asymmetric cell divisions in cells that can give rise to new roots, together with the synchronization of processes in surrounding tissues. This ensures that the roots grow in the best possible way to take advantage of the nutrients and water in the soil.

Dr. Ramakrishna (University of Nottingham), who is the first author of the study, explains how the team discovered a new component through which plants control this: "To identify novel factors involved in governing root branching, we explored which genes are expressed during the early stages of the process. This led to the identification of a cell wall modifying enzyme - a molecule that regulates chemical reactions - that controls the cell divisions leading to the growth of a new root. Mutations in the gene that codes for this enzyme led to swelling of root cells that give rise to a new lateral root and resulted in subsequent defects in the first asymmetric cell divisions during the formation of root branches."

These results show that a very tight regulation of cell size impacts the position of cell divisions, and thus the location and growth of new root branches. The identification of a cell wall enzyme acting in the extracellular space mediating plant stem cell divisions suggests we need to take into account a much broader range of proteins in our future search to disentangle the process of root branching.

Prof. Tom Beeckman (VIB-UGent) adds: "Identifying this enzyme is only a first step. The next challenge is to unravel how these cell wall modifications control cell size and how this is coordinated with other molecular processes during root branching."

Prof. Ive De Smet (VIB-UGent) continues: "Ultimately, we strive to understand how plants respond to their ever-changing environment. Improving root architecture can contribute to stabilization of plant yield under adverse environmental conditions."

This study, and the new research avenues it opens up, could lead to innovative techniques to improve root architecture in favor of higher crop yields and plants more resistant to drought and nutrient stress.
-end-
Publication

EXPANSIN A1-mediated radial swelling of pericycle cells positions anticlinal cell divisions during lateral root initiation, Priya Ramakrishna et al., PNAS 2019

Questions from patients

A breakthrough in research is not the same as a breakthrough in medicine. The realizations of VIB researchers can form the basis of new therapies, but the development path still takes years. This can raise a lot of questions. That is why we ask you to please refer questions in your report or article to the email address that VIB makes available for this purpose: patienteninfo@vib.be. Everyone can submit questions concerning this and other medically-oriented research directly to VIB via this address.

VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

Related Enzyme Articles:

Enzyme catalyzed decomposition of 4-hydroxycyclophosphamide
Oxazaphosphorine cytostatics (Cyclophosphamide, Ifosfamide) are often used and very effective anticancer agents; but so far little is known about the molecular basis for the antitumor effect.
The carpenter enzyme gives DNA the snip
Enzyme follows a two-step verification system before cutting and repairing DNA damage.
Cellular senescence prevented by the SETD8 enzyme
An enzyme that blocks cellular senescence and its mechanisms has been discovered by a Japanese research team.
Enzyme key to learning in fruit flies
University of California, Riverside-led research finds enzyme that is key to learning in fruit flies.
Old enzyme, new role
A team of researchers at the University of Delaware has discovered a new function for an enzyme that has long been known to have a central role in bacterial metabolism.
More Enzyme News and Enzyme Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#535 Superior
Apologies for the delay getting this week's episode out! A technical glitch slowed us down, but all is once again well. This week, we look at the often troubling intertwining of science and race: its long history, its ability to persist even during periods of disrepute, and the current forms it takes as it resurfaces, leveraging the internet and nationalism to buoy itself. We speak with Angela Saini, independent journalist and author of the new book "Superior: The Return of Race Science", about where race science went and how it's coming back.